I had the pleasure of participating at one of the meetings of the „Zukunftssalon: Forum of the Future“. The Zukunftssalon is the brainchild of the dynamic and outspoken Anne Mettler, who leads the Lisbon Council, a Brussels-based innovation think tank.

The Lisbon Council has just celebrated its fifth anniversary. Through its events and publications it provides a platform where creative and innovative minds can bond and exchange ideas. Above all, it pursues a campaign to bring innovation to the forefront of EU policy making and to shed light on innovation’s intricate dynamics.

Their credo: “While there is much talk in Europe about innovation, there is still too little public engagement and popular understanding that innovation is first and foremost about doing things differently. Put simply, we need renewal and change in all areas of society – public and private.”

The theme of the dinner cum debate was „Creativity and Entrepreneurship: Empowering a Workforce for the 21st Century”. The discussion reflected on and fully embodied the philosophy of the Lisbon Council. Since Chatham House rules apply, I am not supposed to reveal the identity of the participants or quote any particular person. To sum it up, there was much talk about the need for change, openness and transparency in Europe and at EU-level as key factors for a culture that embraces innovation and as a precondition to overcoming fragmentation in Europe.

While this was a rich discussion with a lot more mentioned than I could possibly summarize here, my most interesting take-home points were (obviously my interpretation of what was said):

Macro-economic stabilization is not enough to tackle the current economic crisis. What’s also needed is micro-economic initiatives, faster progress and innovation, more room for enabling technologies, such as ICT and improved training across the board. Public sector incentives become more important during the present climate, where market failure abounds.

The EU should overcome fragmentation and avoid involuntary duplication, also within its own institutions. It should produce less paper but more joint action, make more use of Web 2.0., do more with less resources.

Support for Innovation should be more focused on real impact, increasing efficiency and effectiveness of the private and public sector, rather than being too money and revenue focused. For the Structural Funds, for instance, this means that using them wisely and cutting out waste, becomes ever more important.

Innovation does not only have to focus on excellence, but help to bring those less advanced to a level, where they can compete. We need a “two-pillar” model. The regional aspect is very important in this respect. There is a lot of potential for advanced as well as less-advanced regions. Structural Funds implementation rules should change to allow for taking risks and funding real innovation, for instance demonstration projects.

Even if we would reach the Lisbon goal of 3% GDP for research, Europe would not become automatically the most competitive knowledge-based economy. Because, ultimately, innovation is all about taking risks and embracing failure, but in our European societies failure is not an option, since we do not encourage people to take risks but rather avoid them.

(P.S. While it has become fashionable to say this, I am not sure whether risk is the right key-word and all too welcome in the current climate, given that excessive risk-taking and risk-rewarding brought us into this mess.)

I hope this has created more appetite for Lisbon Council thinking. I recommend everybody warmly to read Ann Mettler’s brilliant paper (sometimes paper is still needed!) on “From Why to How – Reflections on the Lisbon Agenda Post-2010”

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