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Education in the Age of Innovation

Thais Alencar

Sometime around 1830, the great Japanese artist Hokusai created his most memorable artwork, The Great Wave off Kanagawa.  In its stark asymmetry, it offers a timeless portrait of a world out of joint.   Mt. Fuji, the cultural heart of Japan, is shown displaced to one side - overpowered by a wall of water.  Meanwhile, we barely notice the tiny figures of people riding fragile boats who seem powerless to influence the course of events.





Hokusai’s image resonates today.  We are in a time of VUCA – an increasingly popular acronym standing for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Times of stability only require incremental adjustment and fine-tuning.  Times of change require bold innovation.   Steve Jobs once famously observed in a time of crisis that “The cure for Apple is to innovate its way out of its current predicament.”  The same challenge might well be on the minds of many leaders today as they face an uncertain, disrupted, turbulent future.  Welcome to the Age of Innovation.

Of course this begs the question of what we mean by innovation, which is one of the most overused and poorly understood words in the lexicon.  Here is a brief semantic interlude.

At its most basic, Innovation is the process by which ideas are generated through human ingenuity, developed and lead to the realization of value, whether seen in financial or social terms.  My own definition of innovation takes things one step further: innovation as a set of capabilities that enables the continuous realization of a desired future.  Capabilities are abilities to achieve effects that are acquired through practice.  Playing jazz piano, for example, is a capability; it doesn’t come about simply by wishing or reading books.  Innovation also needs to be about something.  It needs to serve a purpose, hence the notion of what is desired.  It is a process that is never done, hence the term continuous.  It is also worth noting that innovation capabilities can be developed on multiple levels and result from the behavior of individuals, teams, organizations and societies.


The Age of Innovation

Why is this the age of innovation?

  • Because a new generation of cultural heroes have demonstrably coupled their ability to generate and develop new ideas to realize disproportionate value.  Jobs, Zuckerberg, Bezos, Brin and Page, the list goes on.
  • Because a tidal wave of digital capability is disrupting existing business models and patterns of behavior.  Who remembers Blockbuster Video, Tower Records and Borders Books?  All fell victim to disintermediation, the ability of end-users to connect to the products and services they wanted in new ways.  Does the same fate lie in store for education?
  • Because worldwide there at least 50 countries with national innovation agendas, chief innovation officers and, most importantly, budgets.  The field of large-scale innovation is back in vogue as political leaders increasingly look to innovation as the key to economic and social development.  The figure below shows the global spread of innovation capacity; the size of the country is a measure of its innovation prowess.[1]  Countries worldwide are investing heavily in innovation capability;  China’s innovation agenda alone is said to be budgeted at a whopping $500 billion,[2] while countries as diverse as Rwanda have national chief innovation officers and strategies.  In the United States, innovation as a federal agenda embraces everything from brain science to the human genome.[3]



  • Because competition demands it.  Developing innovation capability routinely shows up as one of the top priorities identified by CEO’s.  In a time of turmoil, the only capacity worth having is the ability to innovate faster than the competition
  • Because the global challenges and “wicked problems” we face as civil society today far outstrip our capacities to deal with them.  To address climate change, human health, habitability, etc., we will have to innovate our way forward.
  • Because traditional jobs are giving way to an unknowable future landscape of employment.  This is an era in which to be employable means to have the skills necessary to be able to create your own job.  It is an era that favors the innovator and the entrepreneur, as individual are empowered as never before with new technology based capabilities to learn, collaborate, publish and influence.  


The coming disruption – the need to innovate education

I have identified four key drivers of the coming and inevitable transformation of education.

Upside Down

Much has been made of the ability of new digital technologies to invert traditional authority and status hierarchies. In the digital domain, knowledge and skill are often inversely proportional to age.  The phenomena of crowd sourcing and crowd funding liberate the power of the many to influence the behavior of the whole.

Education is not immune to this dynamic. Traditional educational practices clearly expresses a vertical structure. It is built around an implied hierarchy of learnedness where teachers who are older are also presumed to have more knowledge to be shared. The “sage on the stage” is expected to be authoritative, while students are compliant learners who ingest knowledge and demonstrate its acquisition through their performance on standardized tests and assessments.

This hierarchy is intimately related to an industrial approach to learning that is increasingly out of step with the needs of a networked, digital age.  The industrial model implies standardized curriculum, quality control metrics, efficiency and batch processing.  However, we are moving into a world of personalization, playlists, themes vs. subjects and demonstration of competencies in a portfolio vs. check-off-the-box exams.  This implies an expanded role for teachers as coaches, enablers and facilitators.


Inside Out

Inside out involves a shift in the where and when of learning. In the old days, we had a homeroom and walked from classroom to classroom like widgets in an assembly line synchronized to a common clock. The locus of learning today is shifting from the classroom, a fixed container with firm boundaries, to a 7 x 24, always on platform—a blended learning environment that lives outside the fixed boundaries of the classroom.

Disruption of education is being fueled by massive waves of change caused by digital technology.  In his recent book The Inevitable[4], Kevin Kelly observes that there are currently 60 trillion web pages, or 10,000 for every person on the planet,

all created in approximately 8000 days.  And this is a participatory not a top down phenomenon.  Some 65,000 videos are posted to youTube every day.  This equates to 300 every minute, 7X24 by 365.   

And since youTube is becoming the new self-directed classroom for Generation Z, these statistics hold special significance for educators.  We live in a world increasingly fueled by the availability of powerful technologies for learning that exist outside the classroom and are in fact increasingly uncoupled from education.  AR, VR, youTube, Xbox, smartphones and PlayStation are becoming the new classroom, while i learning and education are diverging as never before. 

So when kids engage in multi-player Minecraft binges, they are learning a host of practical skills for the 21st century outside the traditional classroom. Learning is increasingly separable from education, and for many students these days, learning is about what happens outside of school in the rich media soup of smart phones and gaming devices.


Events to Flows

The third major change is the transition from events to flows, which in turn transforms the how or process of learning. The industrial model requires discrete, measurable events that can be efficiently scheduled. The school year stops and starts on a fixed timetable, which refers back to the archaic reality of agricultural cycles that required students to be free to participate in farming. Students take a standard set of courses with a fixed sequence of exams.  Standardized tests demonstrate college readiness, and a graduation and prom are the icing on the that follow.

How different this is from the world of the near future, when the potential exists for digital operating systems and nervous systems for educational institutions that enable continuous evaluation and learning. The notion of a playlist as a list of tasks that a student addresses on their own time to personalize their experience changes the when and what of learning.  And this has implications beyond K-12 into higher education and continuous learning as skills must be constantly developed through life, just in time, to cope with new occupational challenges and opportunities.   

In flow education, digital portfolios become increasingly important, as does the future of credentialing, which will evolve from scores on standardized tests to increasingly effective media for demonstrating competence. This also shifts the role of the teacher from inspector to enabler of holistic and practice-based learning.  And in the so-called gig economy with its requirement for just-in-time skills - badging, certification stacks and micro-Master’s programs will increasingly supplement or even replace traditional degrees.  New just-in-time certification models will enable the demonstration of work related competencies to serve specific objective needs.


From Symbols to Experiences

The fourth and final dimension of the great wave that will transform education is the transition from symbols to experiences. This is a shift in the how of learning by the use of new, powerful media.  Most of us in senior positions grew up in an era of analog media and verbal literacy, in which writing essays, penmanship and manipulating words were considered to be core skills.

These days, many students have a new concept of literacy.  Some even actively avoid the effort of learning to write in cursive, preferring instead to work on keyboards.  This is an an era in which new artificial intelligence capabilities can enable a student to write a perfectly composed ten-page paper instantaneously when a topic is typed into a search bar.  Perhaps it is search and curation, rather than composition, that should be seen as the new literacy. 

The unit of learning is also changing.  It is well known that young people prefer shorter experiences that involve motion media.  YouTube has become a major repository and vehicle for learning among young people. Video games have profited in large measure because of their mastery of experience design and learning theory. The arrival of VR and AR as immersive technologies with the potential to create engagement is another dimension of the transition from symbols to experiences, as many initiatives – often backed by venture capital – strive to gamify the learning experience to make it even more relevant and engaging for learners.   


Educating for Innovation

There is one more important reason why this is the age of innovation that we must now turn our attention to.  Worldwide, it is becoming abundantly clear that Generation Z – the generation born around the millennium - are more socially engaged and concerned about the condition of the world than any generation up until now.  They are eager to learn the capabilities of innovation and entrepreneurship that will empower them to have a positive influence on the world.

The passion and idealism of this rising generation however is one of the most underutilized resources for good on the planet, because there is a gap between what education usually provides and what young people need to know to thrive and to become socially active in the 21st century.  This gap was poignantly illustrated to me Gabe, a 12 year old in New York, who told me point-blank, "I know I'm going to leave a legacy, I know I'm going to leave my mark, I just need someone to show me how." 

What this new era requires is the ability to generate new ideas, to develop them through mastery of such skills as storytelling, design and collaboration and then drive these ideas to the realization of value through entrepreneurship.  These are skills that employers have stated clearly as among their most important criteria for employability.  And this is the new blended set of capabilities that defines the landscape of innovation. 

This relates to the mission that EdgeMakers has set for itself, to create a new learning system for innovation and entrepreneurship that will activate the idealism of young people and allow them to make a difference ahead of schedule.  We believe in the importance of a new approach to innovation learning that is integrated, practice-based and purpose driven.  Purpose provides a “why” for learning.  We have suffused our learning experience with societal challenges and wicked problems that provide the grist for the learning experience while arousing a kind of civic mindedness and appetite for activism that the world needs.  And we firmly believe that these capacities of innovation and entrepreneurship are learnable and teachable – and at a young age.

We also believe that educating for innovation can be a centerpiece of an educational institution’s renewed focus on innovating education, a subject to which we now turn our attention.


So What?

Like it or not, education must transform; there is simply no alternative.  It is a service industry where its "customers" – students, parents, teachers, funders - are increasingly dissatisfied.  In my view, there is an "invalid social contract" in which students can do everything right according to the existing system and then find gaps in their employability and ability to thrive in the world as it exists today.

The question that educators and educational institutions must now face is how to embark on the innovation journey.  Every educational institution must prepare to navigate the Age of Innovation in the face of disruptive change.  And while it is impossible to present a one size fits all prescription, the following framework is intended as a starter kit to help educators and educational institutions begin that journey.

My experience shows that there are eight key ingredients that must be identified in a robust innovation agenda. 


1)    Vision – Innovation was defined earlier as the capability to continuously realize a desired future.   Vision is the description of that desired future in concrete terms that provides the vector for innovation efforts.  Vision answers the question: what will the world look like if everything works out?

2)    Purpose – If innovation is the answer, what is the question that is being answered?  Why should we care about innovating and what values and social priorities are being expressed through our innovation efforts.  How will we make the world a better place?

3)    Process skills - Generating and developing ideas involves a suite of process skills that are teachable, learnable and improve through practice.  Adopting techniques from design to create user scenarios, future narratives, and prototypes are examples of objective processes for creativity.  So are techniques for ideation, brainstorming and visualization.  In my opinion, facilitation is an underappreciated skillset that should be a cornerstone of everyone’s learning experience.

4)    Innovation infrastructure – Innovation is the result of combining three cardinal resources – ideas, capital and talent – that must come together in an effective manner.  Eliminate or delay any leg of the tripod and innovation efforts will be hampered. 

5)    Narrative – Stories have a powerful ability to make ideas influential.  When we hire an employee, satisfy a customer or bring an sponsor on board, we have successfully used a story to motivate action and align effort.  Stories are also critical to creating a sense of urgency, without which innovation efforts will fall short.

6)    Culture – This refers to the set of beliefs that guide behavior, or stated another way, that REALLY guide behavior.  One wag described culture as what people do when the boss isn’t around.  Three values are key to a culture of innovation.  Attitudes towards risk are a core cultural belief that can either enhance or impede creativity.  Risk as hazard will lead to conservatism.  Risk as learning will empower the bold.  Cultures that focus on relentless business to the exclusion of needed white space for creative work will not get very far.  And finally curiosity and the desire to learn continuously are fundamentally important, especially in an era in which educators themselves must in a sense become students again. 

7)    Leadership – In an organization build around the core values of efficiency, the leader directs effort through formal authority.  In an innovation-driven organization, the leader must evangelize for the vision, support talent, provide resources, and create a sense of possibility and desire for reasonable risk-taking that informs the culture of the organization.


Two other matters must be mentioned in designing an innovation agenda for educational institutions.  One is well advised to build innovation capability with an eye towards sustaining it. Most leaders in my experience underestimate the level of investment required – of time, mind-share and resources - to turn innovation into an ongoing way of doing business.

Providing the best mechanisms for innovation stewardship is key to sustaining it.  This involves answering the question of who is responsible and for what elements of the process.  Stewardship occurs at three levels in an organization.  Buy-in at the top of the organization is essential to an innovation agenda. And having leaders who understand their role in the overall innovation agenda is key.  Leaders are keepers of the vision, story-tellers in chief, and catalysts who empower others, make useful exceptions and provide resources. 

At the other end of the organization, bottom up involves the inclusion of “all of us.”  This is essential to have a robust flow of ideas and to create a culture of engagement. What is most often missing in innovation initiatives is what I call the middleware – a coalition of the willing, whether it is called an innovation task force or team – that is responsible and accountable for developing and managing the organization’s innovation strategy.  This innovation action group cannot merely be an exercise in form or the 11th item on a 10 item priority list or it will not be effective.



The twin agendas of innovating education and educating for innovation could not be more important, given the demands of the times, the profusion of new learning-relevant technologies, and the desire of Generation Z for a greater voice. 

Education is always an answer to a question.  It holds up a mirror to our society and to our values.  In addition to its other responsibilities, I believe that education today must serve the goal of activating a sense of civic-mindedness in our young that takes into consideration all of civil society and that equips them to thrive in uncertainty.

John Dewey, a seminal thinker on education, stated almost a century ago that education was not only a way to gain content knowledge, but also to learn how to live and to realize one's full potential for the greater good.  I agree with Dewey and take things one step further in saying that the purpose of education must be to enable the young and their teachers to thrive in the Age of Innovation.  Each educator and educational institution will have to find its own pathway.  However, it is hoped that this framework will enable them to begin their innovation journey in a meaningful way.



[1]  Kao, John, Tapping the World’s Innovation Resources, Harvard Business Review, 1997

[2] Kao, John, China as an Innovation Nation, Amazon Kindle Store, 2016

[3] Kao, John, Innovation Nation, Free Press, 2008

[4] Kelly, Kevin, The Inevitable, Viking, 2016

Notable in Their Absence From Davos

Thais Alencar

Reprinted from the NY Times - by Andrew Ross Sorkin

The annual parade of boldface names at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, is always striking. This year’s attendees at the meeting, which begins Wednesday, will include Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe; the billionaire Bill Gates; JPMorgan Chase’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon; and the movie star-philanthropist Matt Damon.

But just as notable are the luminaries who consistently avoid Davos, despite repeated invitations.

The billionaire Warren E. Buffett has never attended. Neither has Timothy D. Cook, chief executive of Apple, the world’s largest company by market value. (His predecessor, Steve Jobs, never went, either.) The founders of Google,Larry Page and Sergey Brin, stopped going a couple of years ago, as did Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chairman. Both companies do send other executives, though.

The leaders of General Electric and IBM, Jeffrey R. Immelt and Virginia M. Rometty, are not attendees either. “I don’t go to Davos and places like that,” Mr. Immelt once said dismissively.

The World Economic Forum, for which the cost of membership and a ticket to the annual meeting is more than $70,000, is both admired and derided as a velvet-rope club for the 1 percent of the 1 percent. The mayor of London,Boris Johnson, once attended Davos only to dismiss it as “a constellation of egos involved in massive mutual orgies of adulation.”

Whatever their reasons for staying away, the leaders of some of the largest and most transformative companies are demonstrating, with their absence, the difficulty of convening a global conversation with all the main stakeholders. Given that one of the themes this year is how to address economic inequality, it would be helpful to have the world’s largest employers participate in that discussion, not to mention a sampling of rank-and-file workers, who never receive an invitation.

Over the last few weeks, I called more than a dozen A-list names (or their handlers) who either regularly go to Davos or who make a point of staying away. I was intrigued by the reasons some people turn down an invitation coveted by so many others.

Those who attend said most frequently that they did so less for the high-minded panel discussions and more for the sheer efficiency of meeting with so many peers, clients, regulators and politicians at one time. “It would take me an entire year, and I don’t know how many flights, to see the number of people I can in three days at Davos,” one top bank chief executive told me, speaking on the condition of anonymity because Davos attendance can be a polarizing issue.

In the avoider camp is Mohamed A. El-Erian, the chief of Pimco, one of the largest bond investors in the world, and someone who given his background would seem like the perfect Davos man — an Egyptian-raised, Oxford-educated global investor. He has rejected repeated invitations to Davos, skeptical of the value of speed-dating with so many clients in the Alps.

“For me, it has been and remains an issue of efficient time management,” he told me in an email. “Our general preference is for more focused and less rushed meetings.” Mr. El-Erian is so anti-Davos he once wrote an article for a magazine distributed at the forum called “Why I Won’t Go to Davos.”

“Over the years, and in the context of an increasingly unsettled and uncertain world,” Mr. El-Erian wrote, “Davos has not had much impact.”

Mr. El-Erian’s rival, Laurence D. Fink, the chairman of BlackRock, which manages more than $4 trillion, had been a skeptic, too — until this year. With such a large global business, he has become almost a head of state himself or, more precisely, as important as the head of a central bank, judging by the panel he is speaking on. Mr. Fink is the only business executive on an economic panel that includes Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank; Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England; Haruhiko Kuroda, governor of the Bank of Japan; Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister; and Christine Lagarde, managing director of theInternational Monetary Fund.

Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean of the Yale School of Management, who counts many Davos attendees as former students of his executive management program, said that many C.E.O.’s attended every couple of years to “meet new heads of state.” But he said many executives “complain that significant decision-makers are too diluted in number by the tidal waves of aspiring consultants and other wannabes.” (Mr. Sonnenfeld does not attend.)

Others don’t go simply for practical reasons. “It’s inconvenient to get to. There’s a lot of friction. It’s cold. There are a lot of people there. The logistics of just going down the street can be very daunting,” John Kao, chairman of the Institute for Large Scale Innovation and a longtime attendee, told Bloomberg News last year.

To be sure, this year’s event will not lack for big names. Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain will be there, as will President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico. So will Jacob J. Lew, the United States Treasury secretary.

The progress they make — or try to make — may be praiseworthy. But at a time when globalization has so transformed business and economics, and at an event that bills itself as drawing the top stakeholders, it easy to understand why it is so difficult to make progress on the big issues when so many key people are not in the room.

The Innovation "Frame"

Thais Alencar

Huffington Post

Professional circumstances have given me a monster backstage pass to

see how innovation really works in many countries around the world,

as well as in our own. I want to bring this knowledge home to fuel a

national conversation on these important issues. And so with these

words I am pleased to launch "Innovation Nation" as my offering to

the blogosphere. I begin my first HuffPost with some puzzlement. It is January 18, 2008, the presidential campaign has been in full swing for longer than

most of us would like to admit, and the "innovation" issue is still

conspicuously MIA from discourse and debate.

We've had the Iraq "frame," and now the recession and change

"frames." But what about the Innovation "frame?" Are we just not

getting the importance of innovation? Vannevar Bush, presidential

science advisor, said it best in 1947, "A nation that loses its science and

technology will lose control of its destiny." More recently the National

Academy of Science referred to the problem as a "gathering storm."

And in my own recent book, Innovation Nation, I state that America is

losing its innovation edge with profound implications for our security

and prosperity as a nation.

Is anybody listening out there in leader-land?

History will show America's current innovation melt-down to have

been an egregious self-inflicted wound. I would need ten times this

space just to recite a list of dismal facts about how poorly our national

innovation system is performing. Some headlines: our young scientists

are abandoning their careers with increasing frequency, talent is

increasingly not coming to our storied shores, our public education

and R & D are showing significant erosion, we're strapped for cash,

other countries are leading us in a growing number of scientific fields, and nobody seems to care.

The innovation frame in national politics has been conspicuous by its

absence. Instead, we have heard increasingly frequent (and tedious)

calls for change. But change is driven by innovation, which is the

wellspring of progress. Change has to be about something or it is just

novelty. In other words, if change is the answer we seek, what is the

question? And, it is a multitude of changes - driven by innovation

capability and harnessed to a compelling national idea - that leads to

transformation. Otherwise, change is just...change.

Wise corporate leaders have always known that change is galvanized

in the presence of a set of big ideas that set the vector and allow

countless instances of innovation to drive it. We need to have a sense

of where we are going if we are to arrive at a meaningful destination.

I have three hypotheses about why we haven't heard more about


1) It's hard to define. True enough - most people still have a hard

enough time distinguishing between creativity and innovation, let

alone defining the role of entrepreneurship in innovation. Many policy

makers will make the elementary mistake of equating innovation with

science and high tech, when it fact it has to do with a broader array of

business model and process innovation that can be driven by design

and the arts.

2) It's hard to talk about. If we can't define it, how can we hope to have

a meaningful conversation about it?

3) We don't have the right national narrative for innovation. This gets

to the heart of the matter. Talking about innovation feels a little like

talking about preventive medicine: we know it's important, but it

never seems to reach the highest priority level. On the other hand,

throw in a little chest pain and it's time to call 911. That's why I have

called our present situation a Silent Sputnik. Unlike the original

Sputnik in 1957 that galvanized our country into action with its first

(and sadly last) national innovation drive, our present situation lacks

urgency and therefore it's no surprise that we're not taking needed


Which brings us to the presidential election. Whether the agenda is

innovation or change - it must start at the top. There is no company

that has succeeded at a large-scale change or innovation effort without

involvement and advocacy from the CEO. Well, we are voting for the

equivalent of a CEO of this country in November and I think we

deserve to hear from the candidates as to how they view innovation in

much greater detail. We need answers from them to such questions as:

What they plan to do about our innovation "problem" in all its

many-headed glory: from science policy to education, strategic

investment and the formation of new kinds of global alliances.

How they see the process of developing a meaningful national

strategy for innovation. How they plan to allocate stewardship and responsibility for

executing that strategy. What kind of metrics they plan to use and how they will define success.

What they plan to invest in. Perhaps most importantly, what is their point of view. How do

they connect the dots into a diagnosis of our innovation

"problem" is and how do they frame our innovation challenge in

light of a larger national narrative? We urgently need a robust national conversation on these issues. As a nation, we deserve it. And if I have anything to do about it, we will get one.

In posts to come, I'm going to cover such topics as how innovation

"works" in other countries such as Finland and China that are racing

for a new innovation high ground. I'm going to document what's going

on in this country - both the hopeful signs as well as the dismal facts.

And in doing so, I hope to enlist you in helping to build Innovation

Nation right here in the United States of America.

The Middle East's Other Boom: Entrepreneurship

Thais Alencar

The Daily Beast


Just as 1960s counterculture was responsible

for the '80s high-tech explosion, the

revolutionary wave sweeping the Middle

East will trigger a boom in entrepreneurship

—but this time the change will be measured

in months, not decades.

Like many people, I have been watching the events

unfolding in the Middle East with a jaw hovering

somewhere near the floor. And curiously enough, many

of the thoughts the revolutionary wave has inspired in

me involve 1960s counterculture and the birth of '80s

high tech in the United States.

Let me explain. A couple of decades back, I received a

bit of notoriety for one widely quoted comment,

"Money is the long hair of the '80s." I had intended to

show that at least some of the seeds of

entrepreneurship in the '80s—the flowering of personal

computers, gaming, digital media, and so much more—

had been sown in the counterculture of the '60s. I was

convinced that much of the '60s experience of living

according to social values, creating nontraditional

organizations, the power of networks, grassroots

organizing, and the general antiestablishment flavor of

what I called the "corporate new wave" had been

translated into the startups of the '80s. When the young

reject the establishment, develop confidence in

different ways of doing things, and, most important,

find cultural and communications bridges to link them

together, the stage is set for large scale social change.

What we have seen in the recent Middle East

"awakening" is the power of shared experience,

primarily among the young, and the use of new social

media tools to organize, coordinate, generate content,

and affirm a shared culture of protest. The jungle

drums of the '60s that brought people together came

from rock ‘n' roll. The cultural catalysts of 2011 in the

Middle East are popular songs of protest posted on


Time will tell, but I believe these events have set the

stage for an explosion of entrepreneurial energy in the

Middle East, especially in the Internet and related tech

sectors. I see the emergence of a new socially minded

entrepreneur in this part of the world—one willing to

challenge the status quo, speak out, eschew the

trappings of establishment career paths for something

new, and take risks. Little of this has been possible,

except with difficulty, in most of the Middle East until

now. When repressive forces—direct or subtle—guide

the young in the direction of conformity, compliance

and conservatism, entrepreneurship may be thwarted.

But it doesn't die; it only sleeps.

Now we see a massive outpouring of self-organized

social entrepreneurship and activism, using technology

as the medium of exchange. What will follow almost

inevitably, I believe, is a similar tidal wave of business

entrepreneurship and innovation as those radicalized

by recent events and exposed to the power of new

technologies quickly find ways to adopt them in every

niche of a newly fluid society. The freedom that is on

everyone's mind in that part of the world is the freedom

to be one's own person—and also the freedom to be

entrepreneurial in challenging conventional wisdom

and established ways of doing things.

More than 300 million people live in the region and

speak Arabic as their primary language; this is one of

the last underserved, language-defined markets.

What also will fuel this boom is the size of the

opportunity space. There is so much to be done in the

Middle East, particularly in the social and Internet

media fields. Right now, there are no dominant brands.

The region is still culturally isolated, with a miniscule

number of international books translated into Arabic

each year. However, more than 300 million people live

in the region and speak Arabic as their primary

language; this is one of the last underserved, languagedefined

markets. And to date, the kind of exchange

across national borders in the region that could

generate larger market dynamics has been limited by

the frictional forces of politics and aging infrastructure.

All of this is now poised to change, and dramatically. In

the U.S., it took more than a decade for the lessons to

percolate from the teach-ins to the startups. In the

Middle East, the time frame will likely be measured in

months, not years, owing to the ability of today's

technology to decrease the cost structure of innovation

and speed up its cycle time.

And the region already has the beginnings of an

entrepreneurial culture. Late last year, I spoke at the

Celebration of Entrepreneurship Conference in Dubai.

Hundreds of young entrepreneurs from the Middle East

gathered together to share experiences, attend

workshops, and network. The links, forged from mindset

and purpose, between this community and the one

taking the streets from Cairo to Tunis could not, in my

view, be clearer.

Tom Clancy Got it Right

Thais Alencar

Huffington Post !

When I learned about Tom Clancy's death, I remembered back to 1984, when a successful browse at a local bookstore yielded a copy of The Hunt for Red October published by, of all things, the Naval Institute Press. We've had a long technothriller romance since then, all the way up to yesterday when I put in my Amazon pre-order for his latest -- Command Decision.

So it is worth reflecting on Clancy's legacy, not only as the provider of a certain genre of entertainment, but as a testament to the power of the imagination in preparing for an uncertain future. I will never forget the conversation I had with a "figure" in the national security community who remarked that no one could have foreseen hijacked passenger jets being flown -- kamikaze-style -- into buildings.

Well, Tom Clancy did. In 1994, a full 17 years before 9/11, Clancy's novel Debt of Honor described how a deranged commercial airline pilot plowed his plane into the Capitol building. Or consider recent and horrific massacre at the Westfield Mall in Kenya. Again it was Clancy who in 2003 wrote Teeth of the Tiger, documenting in detail the gory details of multiple mall invasions -- in the United States -- by determined terrorist groups.

Truth may be stranger than fiction, but yesterday's fiction also has a habit of becoming today's facts. In the 1980's, when I did some advisory work for the strategy team at Royal Dutch Shell, I found them all immersed in William Gibson's visionary cyberpunk sci-fi masterpiece Neuromancer. Shell was a company obsessed with the future, given the fact that even small changes in the social and political climate could affect the price of oil and therefore their core business model. Reading science fiction for them was simply one facet in their overall approach to sense-making and "future-proofing" themselves. 

So, when I imagine national security strategists sitting around trying to figure out what lies around the next corner, I hope they will spend at least part of their time reading Tom Clancy and the Tom Clancys to come. I hope they will acknowledge the power of imagination and intuition that can come out in the best, and most prophetic, fiction.

Latin America Comes to the Innovation Party

Thais Alencar

Huffington Post


Innovation is sweeping the world like a public policy version of

gangnam style. By my count, there are more than fifty countries

around the world that have national innovation strategies, chief

innovation officers and budgets. The old saying "no bucks, no Buck

Rogers" is apt here as one country after another announces ambitious

programs. China, for example, has announced a $500 billion

innovation budget. Chile is another country with big innovation

ambitions; the Chilean government declared 2013 to be its Year of

Innovation under the headline Imagina Chile (imagine Chile).

Thus it is a matter of no small significance that last week, on July 30

and 31, a group of innovation leaders from 18 countries, including 12

Latin American countries, gathered in Santiago, Chile for the first ever

pan Latin American innovation summit. As a self-appointed "Johnny

Appleseed" of innovation for the past two decades, it fell to me to

design and facilitate the summit in partnership with the government

of Chile. As evidence of the weight given to this event, the kick-off was

provided by S.E. Sebastian Piñera, President of Chile and Félix de

Vicente, Minister of Economic Affairs.

Why bother to look at Latin American innovation, you might ask? Isn't

this just a land of intractable poverty and insurmountable

development obstacles, teeming with drug lords and corrupt

government officials, while sweetened by the occasional and festive

all-night party set to the sounds of salsa, tango or bossa nova? Doesn't

the old saying about Brazil -- that it is the country of the future and

always will be -- also apply to the region as a whole?

Absolutely not.

Here are a few snapshots: Medellin, once a notorious hot spot for the

drug trade, was just voted the most innovative city in the world, by no

less an authority than the Urban Land Institute. Corporación Ruta N

there is turning the city's drug lord reputation into a entrepreneurship

city by creating a new environment for innovation, education and

entrepreneurship. Uruguay has supplied a laptop for every child in the

country, with other countries in the region beginning to follow suit.

Movistar Innova, a venture incubator in downtown Santiago, is the

registered address for no fewer than 600 startups.

In Chile, The Economist named Santiago "Chilecon Valley," the Silicon

Valley of Latin America, much thanks to programs like Startup Chile

and the friendly entrepreneurial ecosystem established by the Chilean

government. Startup Chile just accepted its seventh cohort of

entrepreneurs from a pool of 1,386 applications from 63 countries.

Entrepreneurs receive $40,000, mentorship and office space for six

months to launch their ventures from Santiago. And Chile, with a

population of 17 million, has announced a national budget for

innovation of $1 billion, while Brazil's innovation agency, FINEP, has

just put forward a request for over $18 billion to support innovation

initiatives in business, education and research. Meanwhile, the pace of

change is exemplified by Mexico, which jumped 16 places on the latest

global innovation index announced in June 2013 by a consortium of

Cornell University, INSEAD and WIPO.

And the overall trends are no less striking. Latin America is projected

to have a mid-century population of 800 million people, notable for

their diversity, and with an economy rivaling the US and European

economies in size. Achievement of market integration will be a

powerful engine for economic development as innovations of all kinds

are able to achieve scale.

While there may never be a United States of Latin America,

integration is advancing at flank speed and in so doing is redrawing

the global economic map. The latest sign is the formation of the Pacific

Alliance in June 2012. The brainchild of the presidents of Chile and

Mexico, the Pacific Alliance is a bloc of countries consisting of Chile,

Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Peru that intends a new economic

alliance leveraging its 36% of Latin American GDP. The organization's

goals include free trade and deep economic integration of services,

capital, investment and movement of people. To get an idea of its

significance, the Pacific Alliance if fully integrated would be the 9th

largest economy in the world, surpassing that of India. The inaugural

meeting of the Pacific Alliance will occur in November of this year. As

a mark of how seriously the Pacific Alliance is being taken, some 19

countries requested observer status, including Australia, China,

Canada, France, Japan, South Korea and the United States.

So old stereotypes of no longer apply regarding Latin America. What is

needed now is a re-perception of Latin America's opportunity horizon.

Our summit enabled spirited dialogue among leaders of countries

whose similarities vastly outweigh their differences. It enabled

participants to look closely at the reinvention of education, innovation

policy, entrepreneurship development, design policy and cities

through the lens of an innovation society. Most importantly it created

a community of interest around innovation as a regional agenda with

significance for the global economy.

We should therefore all applaud the fact that the summit concluded

with the intention to hold a second summit in 2014.

For more information, please go to: for information about the summit for information about the Institute

for Large Scale Innovation for information about Chile's year of innovation