How do I summarise Future Summit 2009?
(Credits: From Flickr aussiegall)
I guess the best way as being talked to for 25 hours in a 36 hour period! This is a very different format to many of the other events I attend which tend to be more collaborative.
This lack of collaborative time where the participants were able to discuss the future was my biggest complaint. Most of the panels discussed issues of today that need to be resolved, not what the future holds, and unfortunately any talk of the future was just that, talk. The session content also tended to be very hit and miss on the quality.
Over the two days there were three that stood out.
First was Alison Sander from Boston Consulting Group’s (BCG) presentation on Megatrends (the second session) was one of the best sessions and eye opener. Maybe I am a bit slow but I had not explicitly thought about tapping into these trends as a method of growth. BCG tracks four types of trends; Terra, Economic, Technology and Meta but as Alison said just knowing about these trends is not enough. Action is what is needed. BCG provides their clients a four phase model on how to leverage megatrends:
I guess I have always done 1 and 2 but failed on 3 and 4, which is why I am not a billionaire ;-). A couple of interesting statistics I picked up, 60% of the world’s population is in Asia, and in 2006 the world’s population became more urban than not.
The next session of interest was not until late Tuesday morning looking at technology as an enabler of prosperity and growth. I had very high hopes of this session given the quality of the panel; Tracey Fellows MD Microsoft Australia, Holly Kramer Group MD Telstra Product Management, Dr Paul Twoney CEO ICANN, Professor Max Lu, and Glenn Wightwick CTO IBM Australia. While the discussion was a bit up and down some of the key gems came from Paul Twoney and Dr Lu.
Paul Twoney highlighted that while about 70% of the room had businesses that sold something on the Internet only about 2 people did so in a language other than English. Then came the kicker, Paul states that Brisbane, Sydney and Los Angeles are the only cities that have people who can speak all 38 languages of Asia (I would suspect Melbourne is very close). Dr Lu then went on to talk to us about solar being the ultimate energy source, nano ethics and social responsibility of nano technology and that the future of nanotechnology in manufacturing has a pervasive impact. The final key message was from Paul Twoney who challenged the audience to look at what we could be doing with broadband to help on climate change, water, globalisation and population growth.
The final session of serious interest was on harnessing Australian talent. Australia has been so successful building an international education program that we have reducing public funding to our own education institutions, which is impacting our ability to develop talent. International education students are a $15.5 billion industry for Australia, almost the 2nd largest export! One of the best quotes from the session came from Professor Gill Palmer of RMIT “people are a countries competitive advantage”.
The talent session then moved to looking at corporate management of talent. I can’t remember who provided stated this but, Australia is the worst in the OECD when it comes to amount of money corporations allocate to educating their employees. Another interesting statistic is that 67% of boardroom conversations are deeply inhibited, through one reason or another, making only 33% of boardroom conversations useful! Australia as over 1 million citizens living overseas, why are organisations not trying to bring them home as a method of talent development?
I had several interesting discussions. First discussion was at the gala dinner with two individuals; one from big business the other a major educational institution. We were discussing the issue of clean energy. Both told me that much of the technology existed today; just no one had put it all together. So I asked why they don’t open source it, so we can solve the energy problem. The answer, no one can make money out of open source and how do you know that people will not hold back their key ideas. The second discussion was over lunch where we were discussing how to inform the average Australian business about Megatrends for business growth. One of the first answers was to create a government institution of trend spotting to then communicate to the public.
My final thoughts. Australia has a good future; however this future could be great if we as a society learn how to harness key trends. Big business also needs to radically change to institutions that open up communications internally, become more socially responsible and finally grow and develop their employees.