Estonia and Science Based Culture

Estonia is a pretty amazing place for a number of reasons. First, it has an amazing history. And that history is not widely known around the world. Second, it goes against a trend. The conventional wisdom is that big states are successful. Estonia is tiny. Third, its culture values education highly. there are more reasons, but we might stop there forĀ  the purposes of this blog post.

It is this third point that inspired me to post here. What can one say about Estonia’s future? Well, it must and can break away from 50 years of Soviet domination. That is underway, but the job is not completed. To do go further, Estonians need to connect with the best in the world – to make top connections that open world class opportunities for the next generations. Hmmm … how to do that? That means first of all seeing what Estonian are really, good at. And the answer is science.

It is interesting that Tartu University has a great history based in the sciences. And Estonians like science. Moreover, the Soviet occupation did not debase the sciences the way it did law and social sciences. That suggests Estonians would be wise to invest in using its science human resources. And I think Estonians are on the right track to do that.

Stay tuned and I will update this story as it unfolds. It is a great one!

How Borders Shift

Want to think globally? Sure. We all do. But in doing so, you can’t get around the fact that humans organize themselves into countries. And there are around 200 of these around the globe.

These borders seem very fixed. But looking back, one finds that they have not been so. And looking forward, they are not likely to remain so. There are lots of trends at work that will re-shape our map and change those borders. Parag Khanna gives a nice overview of some trends.

But more generally, we should take his advice to heart. If we want to lessen the negative effects of borders, we have to facilitate ways to cross them.

Interesting thought.

A New Type of Fuel

A while ago, I watched a pretty interesting TV series about oil. It was a serialization of Dan Yergin’s book, “The Prize”. Here is a link to Part 1 that you can watch on Youtube. Dan makes the point that the discovery that oil could provide a relatively cheap source of energy drove much of 20th century history. For example, with cheap gasoline, you get the automobile industry, suburbia and the consumer revolution. It was not just a little bit better than prior fuels. It was a game changer. Oh …. BTW, You also get lots of conflict over access to oil.

No doubt, developing access to more diverse and sustainable forms of cheap energy will continue to be an ongoing quest. So today, I saw an article about using sugar to power batteries. Interesting stuff, considering that many believe we will move from oil based internal combustion driven transport to electric.

So what is coming? We can get a glimpse of what to expect by looking at what just happened. It was not until we got cheap energy that we began to learn what we could do with it. We moved from this

To this

To this

As Al Wenger points out, it took a long time for society to adapt to a new disruptive technology. Why? Well, we make incremental improvements by adapting complementary technologies to what works better. And that takes time.

So what new resources are we bringing into daily use these days? We are just now starting to empower communication with digital networking. Facebook, for example, didn’t open up as a platform until 2006, less than 10 years ago. And while Facebook is huge, no one would argue that it is the final word in platforming. It remains to be seen how we will develop better tools. But one thing is already clear. Talk powers idea generation. More efficient uses of talk power it much more. Which, for example, is why New York (as a media center) has such an advantage as a technology center.

So can we consider better ways of talking to be the fuel of the 21st century? Perhaps. It makes you wonder, what are the complementary technologies that we will adapt to energize our platforms. Indeed.

Thinking about Retail … and Locality

Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks) said about recent flat results from the retail sector (from BI)

“That truth is that traditional brick and mortar retailing is an inflection point. No longer are many retailers only required to compete with stores on the other side of the street. They are now required to compete with stores on the other side of the country.

As I have written here, this type of competition will stress locality more as we go forward. But we should not just see it as a threat to locality. It is an opportunity for customers and innovative entrepreneurs. And not just in retail.

To adapt, local culture can’t rely on “top down” control. It has to be able to adapt, learning from those who are most in tune with problems and opportunities.

Locality – What Does Your Town Offer?

A while ago, I got interested in the idea that people who live in a given place can do stuff to make that place more vibrant. That may not matter so much if you live in New York or Silicon Valley. But it does matter when you live in a place that is not a center of attention. After completing my thread, I thought some more. And I realized that I need to get more concrete.

So here I go! I will need to hold onto my hat here. I will be working on two projects this year to see if we can make Tartu, Estonia a more vibrant location. For those of you who don’t already know, that is where I live.

Here are the two projects. First, I will be working to attract more visitors to Tartu. Yes, tourists. People who would like to visit for the weekend or a bit longer. And btw, here is a link to a local news story (in Estonian) about the relatively dormant Russian tourist trade here. Second, I will be working on a project to assess what types of skills our labor market has and needs over the next period of years. And I will be updating you here about how this goes. I will post on these projects as we go forward, and collect those posts in two categories “Tartu – tourism” and “Tartu – labor market”.

In case you are wondering, these are not areas where I have any world beating expertise. I am not in the hospitality business. Nor am I a labor economist. But I will be talking to a lot of these kinds of people to learn about how to move us forward.

Should be interesting. And I hope you stick around for the ride!

Europe and Global Markets

Fred Wilson posted the other day that his VC firm has made a commitment to investing in Europe. He explains

the biggest thing is european entrepreneurs have fully made the change from locally focused to globally focused and are mostly now building businesses that can and do serve a global user base from day one.

I think I might tattoo this on my forehead – serve global users form day one.