4 lessons learned from Pekka Himanen’s talk at Zaragoza

Pekka HimanenAlthough this post might a bit off-topic, I believe it might be worth a try. At least, it brings back the blogging spirit I had some years ago, when I posted more often and spontaneously 😉

So, I would like to summarize the lessons I found most interesting from a talk I just attended. It was delivered by Pekka Himanen at the conclusion of the 5th International Committee of Experts, a board created eight years ago by the city of Zaragoza among its efforts to promote knowledge society and become a hub of innovation.

Pekka Himanen, well-known by his best-seller “The hacker ethic” and his publication with Manuel Castell “The Information Society and the Welfare State: The Finnish Model”, is one of the internationally best-known researchers of the information age. He obtained his PhD in Philosophy as the youngest doctor ever in Finland at the age of 20 and was selected as one of the 200 Young Global Leaders in 2005. His talk was centered on the culture of creativity as a driver of economic and social development and here are the four most important lessons I found:

  1. Innovators, businessmen and culture. In order to create a hub of innovation you need three things: creative people, producers/managers (i.e. businessmen and investors) and a culture of creativity. I found particularly interesting the key role of entrepreneurs and businesses to foster innovation, specially in the current context when anything related to business is increasingly demonized (as so was shown by some of the attendants during the later debate).
  2. Athens, the innovation hub of all times. The most successful case of innovation hub in the Western world is in Athens, 2500 years ago. A relatively small group of people (a city-state estimated in 100,000 inhabitants) managed to develop by themselves the foundations of current Western culture, from philosophy to politics, law, science, literature and arts, in a relatively short time. Any small town has the potential of becoming a world-class innovation hub if the three previously mentioned ingredients meet simultaneously. By the way, the population of ancient Athens was 30% foreign. Food for thought!
  3. Innovation hubs happen in physical and reduced environments. Ancient Athens was 2 kms wide, and most of its cultural life happened in the Agora (the Greek forum), a 300×300 meters space. Physical proximity is not only important but necessary if you want to be innovative (heard that, bencer?)
  4. Switch the tragedy-mode off. In a reply to an attendee’s comment filled with bitter critics to politicians and collective self-pityness, Himanen explained the example of the Greek tragedy (yes, plenty of lessons to learn from our Mediterranean neighbors): it all started when the main character believed his fate was inevitably dreadful; after that deep conviction was attained, all his subsequent actions were just steps to meet his unavoidable final destiny. Real life is very similar: if we believe we cannot escape our dreadful fate, our actions will inevitably lead to self-destruction. Complementary to this line of thought, he commented that in nowadays society, there is a trend to outsource our own lives: we base our happiness in those who provide leisure and entertainment and we blame everyone else of our misfortunes, instead of trying to find the sources of our happiness and misfortunes in ourselves.

Pragmatic philosophy for a Tuesday evening…

1 comment July 6th, 2011


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