A year since my world flipped

Tomorrow is the 1st of May. The significance of this date is two-fold. Firstly, it is the day that I completed my PhD-Thesis 12 months ago. One year ago I hit ‘SAVE’ the last time on my thesis document. A 5 to 6 year long (depending on whether  you ask me or my wife) project came to an end, leaving me with evenings, weekends and holidays to spend (almost) any way I want. On many occasions I thought that I would not be able to finish that mammoth project.

Secondly, my best friend, mentor and business partner, Jorg Meyer-Stamer, passed away. Not only did his sudden departure leave me without a special friendship, Jorg also left me with a huge list of ideas, schemes, concepts, powerpoint slides and unfinished papers. It took me months just to figure out which ideas I could possibly pursue without his energy, insight and inquisitiveness (and pushing). Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful for his legacy, but I have on more than one occasion caught myself thinking that he left me with too much raw material. I once or twice caught myself for blaming Jorg for not being here. Perhaps I simply miss arguing with Jorg about things that we both knew we could not change or influence, like the time when we were debating how local government has hijacked and almost completely stifled local economic development in South Africa. But more about that argument in another post.

What are some of the open questions that I am working on thanks to my late friend Jorg?

  • How can we get business leaders to take the lead in local economic development activities in a market orientated, trust building and positive externality creating way?
  • How can we get more people to understand markets, market failures and other forms of transactions in a non-theoretical but significant way?
  • How can we create a development practice field around innovation systems similar to the movement that now exists around value chain promotion? The follow-up to this is “how do we get more private sector development experts involved in this topic that is now dominated by academics and policy makers?”
  • How can we get people to shift their attention from micro-projects in LED towards initiatives and incremental improvement of territories?

Jorg always asked me the following questions:

  • How can we make this topic easier to understand without making it less sophisticated?
  • What happens when we combine insights from another academic or research discipline with development practice?
  • How do we take these ideas, practices and tools to scale so that more people can use it? You may not be aware of this, but Jorg was one of the first people to take a tool such as Porters 5 forces (designed to develop the strategy of a single firm) and develop it further into a workshop format that could be applied to many homogeneous firms simultaneously.
  • How can we make this practical and fun?
  • How can we knock our participants, colleagues, peers and partners socks of in our next workshop or event?

In this last year I have also managed to leave some pet topics behind, and I find that I am almost exclusively now focusing on private sector development, innovation systems promotion and value chains. I am spending a lot of time developing tools around the diagnosis of innovation systems, and this automatically led me to work almost exclusively in advanced sectors (it just happened naturally).

And you know what? The problems here in the advanced sector are the same than those we face in rural development, or agriculture. The target group now simply wear ties and have more zeros in their calculations. The advanced sectors also have low trust, also suffer from poor information flows (even if there is more information flowing), they also lack public goods (many public goods become privatised) and are also confronted by bullies and plagued by market failures. The big difference is that these people are overlooked by development practitioners and policy makers, and they have never heard of development facilitators or our ideas and facilitation methods.

Now isn’t that a nice problem to solve? Let me know if you want to join me on this journey.

While you ponder that. What challenges did Jorg leave you with?

  • What questions are you working on?
  • On which path are you now searching for new answers (and hopefully some new questions as well)?
  • This one is aimed at Colin 😉    Which answers have you found that need some good questions in order to make sense?

I challenge you to share your thoughts in public. Jorg always shared his learning, and he always took all of us along on his journeys. Let us celebrate his legacy by sharing our ideas, or at least our progress down the path.

Jorg and Shawn recording a LEDCast episode

Landschaftspark in Duisburg

Some things change slowly

Apologies for being so silent. I am currently leading a team that is analysing the innovation system in the electronics sector in South Africa. I cannot help but feel inspired to meet such brilliant business minds. And they all want to share, they all want to help to grow the country. It is so sad that many people see the succesful business people as the enemy in my homeland.

In the meantime, I quite Cicero. Listen to this wisdom from 55BC.

“The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance.”
– Cicero – 55 BC

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