I attended the first ever Tomorrow conference a few days ago. The mastermind behind the event is Lauri, and for a first time organiser of an event of that scale, he did an excellent job. Everything went smooth, and no problems could be detected whatsoever. In fact, the staff themselves were perplexed how well everything worked out.
The event was spliced into 4 sections, each having a somewhat vague sub-theme, of which the speakers followed with varying accuracy. Each of the sections began with a musical performance by Anni. Coupled with the proper sound systems of Musiikkitalo, they were a great mental reset before the talks.
As the name implies, Tomorrow was about things in the future. The talks were, in a sense, all over the place. Most of them dealt with how we influence what happens in the future, with our actions and behaviour. I won’t necessarily go into per-speaker details, but try to convey a feeling about the topics and overall atmosphere. No clear visions of the future were presented in particular. Instead, the atmosphere was more of an encouraging one.
Pekka Haavisto began the morning with a few stories and tidbits about western pessimism and and the apparent success of eastern businesses. More precisely, how the Chinese have had success in Africa. Nassim Taleb went into lengths about the risk prone Californians and risk averse Europeans. From a business perspective, several speakers left us with the sense that we need a cultural change, that encourages risk taking, that supports entrepreneurs.
Tuuti Piippo told a few stories out from her book “Future Makers”. Telling stories in general is an important way of conveying information, and helps with retention. The concept of “Hero’s Journey” is universal in all cultures, and therefore, those urges are deep within most of us. She advocated the potential we have for being a “crazy one” and for dreaming big. But most importantly, actively pursuing those dreams and aspirations.
Jane McGougal approached optimism via games and gamification of everyday things. People tend to get disengaged with their lives and work, and seek that engagement from games. Play essentially restores or generates mental energy and willpower. Gaming is a form of investigation. Problem solving, improvement and mastery can give people a sense of purpose, and that is huge. There is potential in tapping into these effects, with perhaps world changing end results. We got examples of health care, and somewhat semi-jokingly, a Nobel peace prize was mentioned too.
Petri Rajaniemi talked about traditional Finnish pessimism and had a somewhat philosophical take on what is happiness. He quoted Montesquieu, and the quote summarises The first world problem:
If one only wished to be happy, this could be easily accomplished; but we wish to be happier that other people, and this is always difficult, for we believe others to be happier than they are.
His talk was easily the funniest, while also dead serious. He introduced an idea about the Western culture being on a overmedicated, therapy binge. And when we finish that binge, we can change the world. Already, studies show that people in western countries are actually the most idealistic and spiritual. Eastern countries are going through the industrial and technological surge, and suffering from a materialistic outlook on life. Just the opposite of what has generally been the understanding.
Both Sami Honkonen and Taleb talked about “economics of scale”. They argued we should strive for as little structure and centralisation as possible. Honkonen gave more of a down to earth and personal examples and stories from Reaktor, where they have a most unusual and nontraditional company structure. Taleb explained this more via historic examples, such as the Allied decentralisation of post WW2 Germany, and European city states.
In addition, Karin Tenelius followed with an information packed, lecture-ish presentation about removing management positions. There’s a bunch of hurdles to go through when enforcing such a policy to an organisation, with hurt feelings and triggered survival instincts. Having no managers means less structure, with shared authority and responsibility. Employees with responsibility have a sort of mental ownership of the company or the end product of their work. This generates intrinsic motivation.
thinking and behaviour
My perhaps favourite talk was by Dave Gray, who actually drew all his “slides”. He collected much of the other speakers’ ideas into a some kind of framework for human behaviour. Liminal, roughly explained and in this context, means “behaviour at, or on both sides of, a boundary”. The main point is that people generate their own belief systems based on experiences, paying attention and generating theories. Once a belief is formed, there is a tendency to follow it, suffer from confirmation bias, and reinforce that belief. Keeping an open/fluid/growth mindset is essential in not ending up in a belief bubble of your own creation.
I came to the event with little expectations and an open mind, previously only aware of Taleb and Honkonen. Both delivered something I had already witnessed, and especially with Taleb, I was a little disappointed. Luckily, ambassador Bruce Oreck had a short discussion with Nassim about different current and local topics. Being aware of Taleb’s work, I was captivated by his presentation and got a great refresh about his ideas. I wonder, though, for people unaware of his ideas, if his talk was a bit too much to digest.
I, and pretty much every attendee I talked after the event, were pleased. The topics and talks got me thinking, and there really couldn’t be a better effect. I got new ideas, and reinforcements on old ones, mostly about organisation structure and human behaviour.