“What happens when you lock up 300 eager pioneers in a container of a sinking ship on shipwrecking course with the message that they have to save the ship without food nor support while the ship’s captain and his team party on deck inside their self made safety rafts?”
That was the feeling I got yesterday when I was invited to the first “Smart City and Communities” encounter in Brussels. It was organised by the EU for the 300 smart city commitments that had been gathered earlier this year. People from 30+ countries had invested in creating ideas, some already in phase of implementation, and travelled to Brussels to see if they could get support to further work it out or expand their work. Many of the pioneers had gone little further than expressing an ideal, often technology based, in need for cash. Others, like myself, presented working instruments for change, with a 4 year precedent, hardly any money need and ready for growth.
When you arrive at such EU scene you feel somehow “selected”. After all you received acknowledgment that an idea seems valid for the future of Europe. You expect to be received accordingly. After all, Brussels is the capital of Europe and well known for the many billions of public tax money that is used to sustain banks, governments and, above all, them EU selves. As pioneer of a new era one feels suddenly welcome in a systems reality that can facilitate our growth and new stability. We can indeed save Europe but need support, freedom to create, connections and means.
When we arrived at the meeting centre our cheerful sentiments changed rapidly. The reception inside was a hidden away garage hall where we could collect a badge. A labyrinth of stairways and corridors, resembling a mix of hospital and prison, took us to a side room where we could listen to the monotonous program explanation of a lady with limited communication skills and no charisma. We were asked to join one of the 6 clusters to see how to take steps along a 6 month time line from idea to successful implementation.
Had no one read our commitment? We were not in for such old time industrial nonsense. We were ready to work and expand across Europe. During the opening speech it was made clear that technology would not be leading yet the clusters were managed by people from the largest technological organizations and lobbyists of Europe. Who was fooling who? On the EU Smart City site we could see the billion euro lobby of the big ones and we were there to expose ourselves to them.
The message was clear: “You have to save Europe”, create things that we can eventually sell to others in the world, become successful fast, “it is the performance that counts”, economy rules. “Money needs to make more money”. But there is no money for you so try to strengthen each other. The message was enhanced by a chaotic, hierarchy driven structure, old fashion techniques, boring presentations and set-up. One single piece of bread per person with water for lunch (various people had no lunch!), bad air circulation, over heated meeting rooms, low quality programming, bad hosting, hopelessly poor cocktail ending, it all showed the lack of understanding of EU management forces on how change and entrepreneurship works or how to create involvement.
The overall impression was of a shambles, with total lack of creativity, highly managed, cheapest of the cheap, encounter. For me and my people it felt like an insult when we consider the personal effort we put into co-creating our wellness with strong innovation plans and proof.
System versus culture change
Not the system’s dynamics of mismanagement and political abuse made the day successful for us. It were the 300 beautiful people that had come and tried to connect in the scarce moments of open interaction. Many pioneers had just come for money but those of us who really had something to work with started their own structuring and openly began searching for network contacts to work with. What the system did not achieve was achieved by these people themselves. It showed very clearly the difference between two worlds:
* System oriented people: hierarchy, management, instruct, money driven, growth oriented, avoid change, time managed, fragmented, standards, bureaucratic, etc
* Change oriented people: visionary, (ex)change oriented, value driven, changed and desire growth, entrepreneurial, leadership, break through, etc
The pioneers for change felt of course bored, insulted, misunderstood, abused, etc while the system’s reality tried to structure feedback, avoid chaos, risks and change. They were two different worlds. The system’s world does not understand the world of change. In essence that is the problem of Europe. The EU system tries to solve its issues by applying what caused them in the first place, their own money driven, blindly managed rigidness, influenced by big multinationals that equally have difficulties upholding themselves. The tax payers money should be used to provide a sense of progression and innovation rather that a bureaucratic status quo.
It is good to have met some people who are also in the field of change. If the system wants to uphold itself it has to open up to the invitation of change or be prepared for chaos. That is the evolutionary law of living complexities through counter forces interacting on each other.
It was magnificent when we could turn our back to the prison and cold mechanisms of this encounter to enjoy the human chaos of a beautiful evening on and around the Gran Place of Brussels. We needed a couple of hours and few drinks to shake off the old age disappointment and gather back the positive can-do energy that characterizes our pioneering spirit. Two public demonstrations on the streets showed the discontent of other people. The beer was good, the evening nice and warm, the food great and the atmosphere overwhelming. Not at all bad after all.