Brits Mean Business

Jenny Gardner, director of UK Trade and Investment in Stockholm, blogs about Britain, Sweden and doing business.

Archive for February, 2012

Superheroes and the Prime Minister

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Role models can be very inspiring. Sometimes you find them in the most unexpected places. I read a lot of comics during my early teens. My absolute favourites were the comics about superheroes like The Justice League, the Fantastic Four and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Looking back, I realise that the comics were not only fun, but very formative and packed with values.

The superheroes were a varied bunch. They came in different colours, genders and ethnicities and from different planets. They had cool powers, which they used to save the universe. My absolute favourite space hero was a green guy named Brainiac 5. He wore a purple jumpsuit and his superpower was – being very smart. He came from the planet Colu and had intelligence of the 12th level intellect. Wow, he was my kind of hero. Another favourite was the Agneta Fältskog of superheroes – Saturn Girl. She came from Titan and could read peoples’ minds and she wore the coolest pink boots. She had everything a teenage girl could want.

The comics’ universe was in general a very equal opportunity place. The different people, androids, mutants, aliens and other creatures were valued and respected as equals. It felt like the superheroes made up a kind of UN of the Milky Way, which was packed with human rights values. The superheroes were all, independent of origin, important members of the team, fighting mad scientists and evil space monsters.

I can’t help thinking that we are not always that lucky on the real planet Earth. We sometimes let differences get in the way of promoting talent and may at times have a tendency to overlook the creativity and synergies of a balanced team.

In February, we had the Northern Future Forum in Stockholm. Politicians from the Nordics, the Baltics and the UK met to discuss future challenges and opportunities. One of the subjects on the agenda was how to enable women get into top management and to become entrepreneurs. These days, half of the well-educated talent pool consists of women, so making it possible for women to excel in business should be good for the economy. It simply constitutes an efficient use of our resources.

I had the opportunity, as the female Director of UKTI in Sweden, to participate in a meeting in connection with the Forum. We were invited to Ericsson’s Innovation Centre to have a discussion on the subject of “Women and their role in the ICT sector”. We had a very interesting group of people around the table, including: Prime Minister David Cameron; British experts from the Northern Future Forum – Joanna Shields, Julia Hobsbawm and Helena Morrissey; the CEO of Ericsson – Hans Vestberg and some of his female colleagues from the operative management board; and Anna Caracolias and Mai-Li Hammargren, two female entrepreneurs. Many different thoughts and ideas were discussed around the table. The entrepreneurs talked about attitude, about how important it is for women to be brave, to take business risks and to dare to fail. They highlighted the importance of encouraging young girls to believe in themselves from an early age. Hans Vestberg and his colleagues talked about the strategies and policies that Ericsson uses to create a workplace that inspires variety and equal opportunity.

The Prime Minister was very engaged in the discussions and he also pointed out how important it is to have role models – in this case good female role models. I could not agree with him more. It is inspiring to have good role models – whether it is Margaret Thatcher, Thandie Newton or Anita Roddick is a matter of interest and political colour – but it does put your own life in perspective.

I am not sure that Saturn Girl was the best of role models from a business perspective. I am not sure she would be at all applicable in today’s context. Her pink boots would most probably do fairly poorly in board rooms. However, her mind reading talents would work brilliantly in business negotiations. Nonetheless, I think the superhero values of embracing different people and promoting talents are values that can benefit the economy on this planet. And that is certainly not a bad hallmark for a good role model.

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Digital Growth and Flying French Fries

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

When I was a child I had a plan. I wanted to become an inventor. The main invention I was aiming for was to create flying French fries. I thought it would be awfully handy if fried potatoes could just come flying on demand.

Flying French fries sound quite imaginative and while we have mastered flying and can certainly make excellent French fries (do I dare to mention the national British treat – fish & chips), the achievement of making them leave the plate by themselves remains to be realised.

However, looking back at the last decade, other pretty outlandish products and new behavioural norms have developed. The internet, for example, has fundamentally changed the way we work, communicate, read news and consume entertainment. We now all have the potential to be managers and publishers of online content. We talk about the Communications Revolution and a Digital Economy. According to a McKinsey study, during the last five years, the internet has contributed to GDP growth in the G8 countries with as much as 20% of total economic growth. And the numbers seem to be increasing.

With new inventions we do not only get new behaviour, but often also a shifting of processes and business models. Change is essential for development, but the complexity of the changes presents challenges for both regulators and companies. 

In the UK, we have great focus on growing our economy and are very keen on being able to capitalise on the digital growth spurt, both within the UK and even more so in an international context. We have been looking at opportunities to strengthen our offering in the digital sector and ways to cooperate within the EU, for example. At the same time, we have realised that in order to be able to succeed, we need to wholeheartedly address the new complexity and the changes that the Digital Economy brings.

Analysing the basic needs for digital growth, we have come to the conclusion that we might need to review the use of intellectual property (IP). IP law is basically a way to safeguard a creator’s ownership of achievements and inventions and give the creator the ability to profit from his efforts. Good and well known examples of IP are copyright, trademarks and patents. However, IP is solidly based on the “old economy” and thus the question arose about whether it also was properly applicable for the Digital Economy?

In 2010, our PM David Cameron commissioned Professor Ian Hargreaves to head an independent review into how the international property framework might support growth and innovation in the Digital Economy. In 2011, Professor Hargreaves published the well received Hargreaves Review – or as it is officially called “Digital Opportunity – A Review of Intellectual Property and Growth”. The report outlined ten different suggestions to improve the IP framework, in order to tackle the new digital challenges. The suggestions included creating an efficient digital copyright licensing system, with exceptions in copyright which could encourage successful new digital technology businesses. It further recommended the government to craft a more agile patent system and to refresh the institutional governance of the UK’s IP system. The impact of all the suggestions was calculated to amount to an increase in GDP growth of 0.3-0.6%. 

UKTI in Sweden recently co-sponsored an event addressing just these issues. We invited Professor Hargreaves to Stockholm to talk about his views and recommendations in the Swedish parliament to a distinguished audience of regulators and business representatives. It was very interesting to listen to his analysis and recommendations, but what was made abundantly clear was that the issue is certainly not “British-only”, but a matter we need to address in Sweden and in other parts of Europe. Even if Sweden has fairly modern copyright regulation (by international standards), we need to join forces in the expanding network economy. Or as Professor Hargreaves put it so well: “Europe needs a united context that will grow the world economy – stimulate creativity while giving the rules for an open market.”

I can’t help hoping that Professor Hargreaves’ thoughts will get more European attention, because a networked economy with extensive trade and investments is never local and we all need growing economies and expanded horizons.

And as for the French fries – there may well come a day when even getting them flying is possible, but until then I will happily keep using my fork.

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