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Reinventing Europe through a distributed network of creative ecosystems

Alain Heureux, Co-founder Brussels Creative & Creative Ring
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Alain Heureux

We live in a world that is becoming more and more dematerialised: chips are shrinking, software is becoming smarter and artificial intelligence is more present each day. Our future jobs will depend on our ability to create value through new ways of sharing and working together. Europe should therefore accelerate innovation by mobilising its creative potential. A new generation of entrepreneurs and creative minds is emerging in our cities. They belong to so-called urban tribes (wikipedians, digital artists, local media producers, fablabbers, arduineurs, new designers…) who create new jobs and opportunities in difficult times, not only by developing and improving their own products and services, but also by enriching and revitalising existing economic activities.

The digitalisation of societies, which is a strong worldwide trend, offers its communities opportunities allowing them to reinforce these developments. These informal innovative communities are discovered more and more by scientific and cultural institutions such as universities and cultural centres, and businesses and local governments wanting to understand and dialogue with these new forms of innovation, too. However, often, these creative urban communities are isolated from their counterparts in other cities and don’t have access to the internet technologies and solutions of the future (such as high-speed cable and wireless infrastructure as well as applications) that could be of great help in the creation and exchange of content and innovative applications. Therefore, neither the size or the diversity of the immense potential of Europe’s creative sector is currently mobilised.

Although my point of view might be correct, and openness and disruptiveness are the answers, we should not be naive but organise the concept of openness in such a way that the value of the chain will not be hogged by monopolies. This so-called “open and shared” culture stemming from the digital sector and the internet of things will soon be faced with industries adopting this new mentality.

Today, the internet is dominated by a few guardians who watch its gates and are in control of its value creation because they are fast, big, disruptive, flexible, innovative and citizen-oriented. They define the rules, calling them open and shared, but this doesn’t reflect reality it in the slightest because we were blind and set in our ways.

How can Europe play a role in the future and use its historic DNA, which is made up of diversity and creativity, in order to produce digital worldwide services instead of just consuming them?

SCALE-SPEED-SERVICE should be the focus of European industries and institutions as a whole now that intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship are more alive than ever, which is proven by the repurposed hangars (Watershed, Engine Shed, etc.) in Bristol or Institut for (X) – a communal project in Aarhus -, public and private fablabs (Manchester, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Toulouse, etc.) as dreamt by professor Neil Gershenfeld. This trend allows us to produce no matter what. Whether it is by discovering how large companies can reinvent their internal structure as written by Frédéric Laloux in his book or through practical examples by iconic companies such as Saint Gobain, Airbus or Renault, it is clear that there has been a mentality shift these past 5 years and that any jealousy towards Silicon Valley or any other place for that matter is no longer necessary.

Operating on a large SCALE remains tricky for Europe. The common digital market should help us to reach the desired domestic scale before targeting the result of the world. We still find it difficult to reach our 500 million citizens due to certain laws and administrative constraints slowing down the extension and retention of our new initiatives attracted by other regions in the world. The United States of Europe, including Great-Britain, must become a reality if we intend on retaining talent and offering the next generations a bright future.

In this world, where a short time to market is more important than intellectual property, we should label SPEED as our second working point. The coming years will be key in laying the foundation and defining the rules of an environment where everything is connected through sensors, producing data that can immediately be converted into predictive information. It’s about developing norms, laws or intelligent protocols ensuring free but fair competition. Today, the ecosystem discussed here is not supervised in any way,  possibly causing monopoly situations that harm all forms of competition and subsequent developments. The current situation should hence be improved, and a new environment should be defined and structured, providing opportunities for small, medium-sized and large projects.

The notion of SERVICE and, by association, the culture of OPENNESS, are probably the biggest challenges for our content because they are new to the European way of thinking. We excelled as producers, but now we have to transform our product and services through digital technologies. An automotive factory has to become a business offering mobility services to its end clients. A third of the value will stem from the product itself whilst two thirds will be attributed to the service. Today, Europe’s only focus is on its products, allowing others to dominate the services part. In order to be service-minded, we need to open up our products to the rest of the world. Open design teaches us that one cannot give what he does not possess!

Fairphone, an Amsterdam-based initiative, is the perfect example of how a phone can be more than just a product! In the producer-based model, the user’s sole role is to have needs that are then fulfilled by new products developed by the producers. User-based innovation processes are very different from this traditional model in which products and services are developed by the producers within a vacuum, protected by patents, copyright and other forms of protection in order to prevent imitators from shamelessly taking advantage of their investments and innovation. Full disclosure of the process would allow for disruptive ideas and quicker testing, accelerating the cycle of innovation and creating new partnerships between small and large companies. Open iteration guarantees a permanent process of potential improvement.

Citizens, cities and companies must work together, creating experimental fields, and connect with other European cities and regions in order to share experiences, identify best practices and, last but not least, cocreate across borders. Europe’s strength, which still resides in its diversity and historic sense of creativity, should now be transformed into what Joël de Rosnay calls “a collective, connective intelligence”. This may seem futuristic yet according to certain Papua New Guinea traditions, when telling a story, one should only tell half, forcing listeners to discover the other half themselves or through someone else.

We can only hope that awareness is raised amongst our leaders and systems at all levels (I refer to Raj Sisodia regarding conscious capitalism:  goal – planet – people), leading to a holistic approach.

We will stay optimistic as well as dedicated.

Written by a constructive system hacker!

Alain Heureux for Brussels Creative and the Creative Ring (