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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Communications

What is one of the essentials for a stable relationship? Trust! And what’s the killer for trust? Deceit! What’s true for human interactions is also true for relationships in the business world. The latest outrageous example of how so-called professionals capitalized on the confidence of their clients was the horse meat scandal, mainly affecting the European continent. The whole food sector is going through a crisis of confidence. Not for the first time though. We had BSE, moldy meat being labeled as fresh, too much antibiotics in turkey and so on. It’s not just Europe. China was just hit by its own meat scandal: Foxes and rats were sold as lamb, some meat was even poisoned. Such actions destroy consumers’ confidence instantly and always leave a sour taste.

So, criminal actions put the meat industry into a crisis, but consumers will gain trust again just by time passing and media coverage going down. Other industries, on the other hand, have a more general image problem as suggested by a recent Eurobarometer survey conducted in the EU, Croatia, Israel, Turkey, Brazil, the U.S., China and India. Finance and banking, mining, oil and gas companies are the least likely to be seen as making efforts to behave in a responsible way towards society. Only 34% of the respondents in Europe perceive them to be making efforts to do so. In comparison, 70% and 67% respectively of respondents thought that agricultural companies and retail companies/ supermarkets were making efforts to be responsible towards society.

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We are delighted to welcome Judith Wedel as our occasional correspondent from Brussels. She is a sociologist and journalist and she will keep us updated on the latest trends from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Her focus is on political developments with regards to business, social and environmental issues. In her first blog she shares her insights about how monitoring EU institutions has become a growth industry for Europe

After some years abroad we’re back to Brussels – the European melting pot. The unofficial European Capital doesn’t offer an easy welcome initially. The sky above the city seems to be stuck in shades of grey, public administration often appears somewhat Kafkaesque and signposting is not a Belgian strength. It takes a lot of patience, effort and tenacity to find your way around.  Skills you also need when working in the surroundings of the European Institutions.

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The Yale Center for the Study of Globalization through its YaleGlobal online service has just launched an ebook A World Connected: Globalization in the 21st Century which is well worth the read for anyone interested in how globalization has – and will in future – impact our world, lives and work.  It’s a seminal collection of essays collated from over ten years of work by scholars, practitioners, politicians, and experts in the study of globalization. 

One of its most compelling points is its broad scope, covering the complex array of ways in which globalization is changing our world – often discussions of globalization narrow in to areas of economics and trade, or to the global capital markets which have had such an impact in recent years, or to the geopolitics of a new world order. With the notions of interconnectedness and interdependence as its lenses, the book not only explores these topics, but also the many ways in which globalization touches all of our lives and interweaves communities, countries and continents – including how cultures and societies develop, how we seek security, how ideas moving around the world are impacting creativity, how rising inequalities are changing societies, how China’s rise is impacting the world, and how we as people interact around the world.

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The winds of reform are blowing in Asia at the moment. Or so it seems when one reads the headlines. Are the loosening of the authoritarian regime in Burma (sometimes called Myanmar) and the recent protests by Chinese journalists really manifestations of openness in these countries? 

To first check out the longer term trends, your occasional correspondent turned to the internationally recognized indices relevant for political governance. It turned out to be depressing reading. In terms of press freedom, both Burma and China score in the bottom five percent of the Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index over the past decade. The Freedom House Index, measuring political rights and civil liberties, shows similar results. In terms of corruption, represented by Transparency International’s corruption perception index, China’s result is near the middle among the world’s countries, whereas Burma is consistently cited as one of the three most corrupt countries in the index since 2004.

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The news from the latest Consumer Electronics Show(CES) 2013 in Las Vegas got me thinking how much life has changed since I was a kid back in the seventies and early eighties. It doesn’t feel like that long ago, but maybe it is. At least that’s what technological developments are telling me. Like many other parents I am hugely concerned about my kids and their friends spending too much time on the iPad, computer, television and every other electronic device you can name – but in reality they are just doing the same things that I do and, for that matter, the rest of the world. Born in the early 2000s they are typical of generation Z or C – the connected generation. Technology and connectedness is in their DNA and being tech-savvy is critical for our future generation, as technology changes ever faster than before.

The internet is probably the most beloved invention since the car. More than 2.4 billion or 34.3% of the world’s population is online and Facebook, the world’s biggest social network with 1 billion users, just confirms the fact that we love being online, connected and living our life in real-time.  However, the internet is not only used as tool to connect people. Increasingly it is also used to fight inefficient transport services, outdated water and waste networks, rising pollution levels and increased demands for energy and housing in our ever more urban communities. Today cities are becoming more intelligent as high technology firms, including IBM and Cisco, cross industry boundaries to take on the challenge of city management. In many different forms, they offer highly efficient, next-generation computerized planning, information and control systems. For example, IBM has worked with Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro to use technology to better handle the challenges of running the city, from managing traffic flow, or coordinating public works crews to anticipating disruptive storms. Another smart new technology making a difference to city planning is Urban OS from Living PlanIT, which works like a PC operating system, monitoring buildings, traffic and services in order to help a city to run smoothly. Test beds for the Urban OS are currently being built in Portugal as well as London’s Greenwich peninsula, while Living PlanIT was selected as one of the World Economic Forum's Technology Pioneers of 2012 for its work in developing smart cities. Another interesting Internet-led development is connectedness in manufacturing. According to the recent report “Industrial Internet: Pushing the Boundaries of Minds and Machines” from  General Electric, the Internet of Things has the potential to add US$10-15 trillion to global GDP by 2030 and reduce billions of dollars’ worth of waste across major industries such as healthcare, energy and transportation.

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Note to self: Stay here! Singapore is buzzing. There is no other way to describe the activity and creativity visible in every corner of this miniscule adopted home country of mine. And it is buzzing in a sort of planned and structured way that makes you feel as if everything is moving onwards and upwards. Therefore, the fact that Singapore scores among the top third in this year’s Global Innovation Index and at the top of the Global Innovation Policy Index comes as no surprise.

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Here's another quick preview from The Global Trends Report 2013, due out in just 2 days on November 14th. Look out for it soon.

Social needs, mobility, communities, societal impact and connectedness are at the heart of the business environment of the future. In this world the consumer can no longer be regarded solely as an individual, self-determining entity. They are connected, for better or worse, and that means the impact of the business-consumer relationship extends beyond the “target” of the relationship, i.e. the consumer, out to the extended networks and communities of which that individual is a part. This is a world where word of mouth and, increasingly, word of mouse dominate. There is nothing new about using our friends as source of best advice. What is relatively new is the way more and more people do it. We are moving away from “wisdom of crowds” to the “wisdom of friends.” Trust is the currency of the connected world.

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In The Global Trends Report 2013, one accelerating challenge is the Fight for Control & Access to Resources.  As the world scrambles to deal with increasing natural resource scarcity and the explosion of digital resources, competition is increasing at both a corporate and national level to build the capabilities that will drive long-term success.  For some this means concentrating power over resources, for others it means new business models and approaches which allow greater control over resources at regional and community levels.  As control & access to resources becomes more distributed, one of the implications for organizations that we highlight in this year's report is the need to shift mindsets from control and ownership of resources to shaping the network that needs the resources.

Changes in resource availability and the competitive landscape mean not only that competition will come from new directions, but also that companies will require a mix of collaborative as well as competitive strategies and tactics to succeed in future. Traditional business patterns are being disrupted by the explosion of social media and other digital platforms, with organizations increasingly turning to open source and collaborative networks that allow them to find, create, and leverage resources and knowledge faster, more effectively and at lower cost than in old “closed loop” models controlled within a company. Firms are moving from being the central players in a physical value chain, to being nodes in open networks of value creation that span the physical and digital worlds. In this connected world, no single organization can ever hope to meet all of its customers’ needs alone. Partnerships will also be required to deliver on the increasing demands of customers for solutions and experiences as well as to deal with commoditization.

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We are delighted to welcome Malin Samuelsson as our occasional correspondent from Singapore, who will be sharing her insights about trends -- from political to economic and social -- impacting and being driven from Asia. Malin is a political scientist and linguist with deep experience in the region and has worked with the UNDP, NGOs and government agencies, from China to Mongolia, Sweden and Switzerland. In her first blog she explores the Chinese leadership transition from a Singaporean perspective.

As an old China hand returning to Asia a couple of months ago, I was looking forward to immersing myself in up-to-date and insightful accounts of the forthcoming transition of power to the fifth generation of post-revolutionary leadership in China. Clearly these imminent changes must be a topic of interest here in Singapore? The greatest changes in three decades are expected at the very top of the ruling Communist Party – 14 of the Politburo’s 24 members are expected to step down, along with seven of the nine members of its powerful Standing Committee. A huge change.

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The last two weeks have seen unprecedented social unrest around the world – the democratization of everything is spreading but frankly it’s not a pretty sight.  Just think back on the headlines:

  • China and Japan facing off over disputed ownership of islands in the East China Sea – with demonstrations and violence against Japanese businesses in China as nationalist sentiment rises, compounded by the anniversary of a politically sensitive incident.
  • Demonstrations, violence and deaths across the world from North Africa and the Middle East to Indonesia and Pakistan as Muslims protest over a cheap and nasty film ridiculing Islam, clearly produced by less than a handful of bigots to incite religious turmoil.
  • Ongoing strikes and renewed violence as South African miners demand higher wages and clash with security forces, even as some returned to work.
  • Massive demonstrations in Portugal and Spain against austerity measures as standards of living fall and unemployment soars – plus renewed demonstrations by Catalan separatists.
  • In India, tens of thousands protest against government plans to open the retail trade to foreign investors, as well as rising fuel prices.
  • Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, re-elected this year, targeted by up to 50,000 demonstrators in Moscow, calling for an end to his rule.
  • In Argentina, President Cristina Kirchner’s government facing the largest pot-banging protest ("cacerolazos") since taking office as people protested over corruption scandals, crime and management of the economy.
  • Occupy Wall Street protesters back to mark the anniversary of the movement, although with fewer feet on the street and continued tensions with police.
  • Continuing protests over natural resources in Peru, particularly directed at the mining sector, leaving one more person dead this week.
  • Ongoing protests over the July election of President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico, amid accusations of vote-rigging and media collusion, including a cyber-attack this week on government, political and media websites.
  • The threat of renewed protests in the Chinese village of Wukan, as elections have not brought the desired changes in government control nor the return of land sold illegally.  

The list could go on – frustration and anger is boiling in societies around the world over: their own government’s management of economy and society; perceived threats to livelihoods; inequality; religious insults and intolerance; crime and corruption; and natural resource ownership.  It’s a potent cocktail of grievances. The cost to societies in terms of driving divisions and damaging livelihoods and economies is massive. What’s causing the unrest? And what can we do about it?

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In my last blog post, I talked about the phenomenal rise and opportunities in Vietnam, but there are also challenges ahead.  Some thoughts from discussions while there…

While the streets of Hanoi and Saigon (as locals still call Ho Chi Minh City) are vibrant, they also testify to the growing pains of this rapidly emerging nation, which only started international reintegration in 1986 after prolonged military engagement.  In 1975, when the country reunified under a communist government, it was isolated and devastated from military action. Even today, younger generations of Vietnamese entrepreneurs talk from personal experience about how they and their families suffered during this period and the disastrous post-war collectivization of farms and factories which led to massive inflation and economic collapse. The shift in leadership and policies in 1985 heralded a new start for the nation, with free market reforms – known as Đổi Mới (Renovation) – starting the transition from a planned economy towards a socialist-oriented market economy.  Private ownership, economic deregulation, foreign investment and newly resumed trade links with the world restarted the engine of growth.

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Information and communications technologies are advancing rapidly, reshaping all aspects of our work and lives, from telecommuting to how we find information to how we interact with others.  The implications for providers of commercial goods and services are enormous, from how they manage their increasingly tech-literate workforce to how they interact with consumers and customers over time.  For the public and non-profit sectors, the changes are equally significant with new ways of connecting with constituencies, gathering tax returns or polling information to new ways of engaging communities in social activities and philanthropy.

With the data deluge increasing, there is an “attention arms race” going on – organizations are competing not only within their industry but across all industries and forms of information to gain – and keep – the attention of their consumers and customers.  It can’t be done alone.  Organizations need to manage a growing array of channels and intermediaries through which their information is filtered, aggregated and relayed to target audiences, including search engines, social networks, news sources, mobile communications providers and purchasing portals such as apps stores.  

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Knowledge and information is being created and shared globally at a faster rate than ever before. In world of real-time news, consumer-ceased content and everything online we are even exceeding our ability to store the data we have created. With more brains and more computing power the speed of innovation is increasing - along with our ability to copy those innovations rapidly. We are all increasingly becoming knowledge workers, finding, harnessing and nurturing ideas, whether new, borrowed, adapted or occasionally radical breakthroughs. Be faster, be smarter, be more creative, are recurring mantras across the world in all aspects of life and work.

So where do we look for inspiration? Where do we find a stream of ideas that we can build from? An interesting book from Andy Boynton and Bill Fischer, with William Bole, offers some important insights into the realm of idea hunting - perhaps even an emerging profession in its own right? The Idea Hunter is subtitled "How to find the best ideas and make them happen." The most important word in the entire title is "find." The key myth that this book exposes is that ideas are seldom breakthrough, new discoveries of momentous importance that spring from the brains of the gifted creative or super-intelligent scientist toiling in splendid isolation in a lab. Rather, ideas are everywhere and even the normal among us can find them, shape them and create value from them - if we take the time to look.

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There is no shortage of information on information.  Even if you are getting a little tired of data on data, an interesting article last week on The World’s Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate and Compute Information by Martin Hilbert and Priscilla Lopez in Science magazine is worth a bit of thought. According to their research, the digital age “officially” arrived in 2002 when digital storage capacity overtook analog capacity.  Since then the digital data deluge has exploded. By 2007, 94% of information in the world was stored digitally, versus just 25% in 2000. The introduction to the special edition on Dealing with Data suggests: “We have recently passed the point where more data is being collected than we can physically store.”  Digital dilemmas are growing: How do we manage the data deluge? How do we filter or aggregate information so we get rid of the “noise” and focus on what matters? If we can’t store everything, what information do we keep and what do we discard? What’s the exploding digital world going to mean for us and our industry?

To give you some context on the size of the digital deluge, here are a few highlights from the study and a related interview with Dr. Hilbert on the BBC:

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The Wall Street Journal has set tech and investment banking pulses racing today with an article suggesting that Twitter may be a prime takeover target.  Although reported talks with Facebook and Google have been “low-level” and don’t seem to be going anywhere fast, the article has well and truly put Twitter on the block at an estimated valuation of US$8 to 10 billion. Round numbers are so much easier when we are talking tech-based financial excitement, don’t you think? So let’s make it easy and stay with the 10 figure.  Based on the report, that’s 222 times reported 2010 revenues of US$45 million or 100 times estimated 2011 revenues of US$100 million.   And the reason it made a loss in 2010 is that it was investing in growth, both of data centers and employees. With 175 million users worldwide (more than the WSJ and New York Time and growing) plus new advertising revenues (and growing too), it sounds like a good deal, right?

Last time I had these sorts of conversations was about ten years ago.  That’s when various friends and family were comparing notes about the Caribbean islands they were thinking about retiring to.  We don’t live on a Caribbean island today, neither do they.  So why are we back in bubble-land? (By the way since my last post on bubble or no bubble reports of secondary trading of Facebook suggest it is valued at more than Amazon now. Meanwhile the Huffington Post is being acquired by AOL for US$315 million.) There is no financial calculation that can make sense of these estimated valuations and yet venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (of Andreessen/Netscape fame) said it bought more than US$80 million of Twitter shares through exchanges for private-company stock.  They have been there and done that, so why are they along for the ride?

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GUEST BLOG from Greg Rice, CEO Activate Media, long-time Silicon Valley investor and tech guru:  FaceBook now has 600 million users, less than six months since it passed the 500 million mark, and membership growth shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. It seems almost unbelievable that in less than seven years we have witnessed its transformation from a protected walled garden for the best universities to the fastest growing social medium the world has ever known. But, explosive growth usually comes at a cost. In this case we have relatively inexperienced and trusting users sharing their lives on social networking systems that are evolving quickly and with unknown consequences.  This has implications both for the users and the businesses that reach users through social networks.

For me, the real issues for users are anonymity and trust. Most people feel protected and insulated using social networks because they think they are posting content in their own environment and using the internet makes them anonymous. They seem to think that the only way their information will be found or used is if they tell someone about it and give them access to use it.

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Happy New Year!  In between taking family time in the snow and preparing the New Year’s celebrations, just a thought as many of us prepare to count down the hours, minutes and seconds to 2011: What is time?  Almost without fail, I make a New Year’s promise to use my time better on the important things in life, in particular spending more time with family and friends (rather than working).  Almost without fail, I break this promise soon after.  But what is using my time “better” after all?

Everyone has their own notion of time. Even the great philosophers, scientists and religious scholars can’t agree on a definition that satisfies all purposes and beliefs.  Some, including Sir Isaac Newton, hold that time is part of the fundamental structure of the universe, a dimension in which events occur in sequence. Others believe it is a purely intellectual construct which humans invented to sequence and compare events. Still others see time as an illusion.  While these debates are incredibly interesting, they could take up more time than you or I have available, so I am going to take a more practical approach this year: Balancing my use of time based on the value I and those I want to spend time with place on it.  Which, of course, requires that I understand how others value and think about time – and that varies hugely depending on cultural and generational attitudes, norms and beliefs.  Just for example – and please forgive the broad generalizations:

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The holiday season, particularly in Western developed economies, is the retail high spot of the year, when sales surge and high-ticket items get bought.  For the shoppers it is also a pre-cursor to the post-holiday sales season when bargains abound, increasingly important in the post-recession world where frugality is a new-found virtue.  This year, however, highlighted the shape of things to come, summarized in a Wall street Journal headline: “Phone-wielding shoppers strike fear into retailers.” M-commerce is here and as it grows will radically reshape not only the retail industry but how people shop – it’s power to the people in yet another industry.  Traditional trolley wars, often focused on delivering the best price on a basket of goods, will no longer be relevant.  Walls of bricks and mortar stores have become transparent and porous. Consumers, armed with smartphones plus an increasing array of mobile shopping and price comparison apps, can now pick and choose the best deals on individual products and services without the hassle of visiting multiple stores.  And they can check what their friends like, real-time, too.  Soon, if not now, they can also pay with their smartphone – or virtual wallet. Welcome to the world of virtual trolley wars!

M-commerce is at an early stage with various studies suggesting it is still just a fraction of e-commerce sales today.  For example an Ovum and Verdict Research report suggested the UK m-commerce market was worth around UK£ 122 million in 2009 versus UK£ 21.2 billion for total e-commerce.  However, m-commerce will grow fast with UK sales expected to more than double by 2013 to UK£ 275 million, and some global estimates suggesting a global m-commerce market in excess of US$ 119 billion by 2015.  A 2010 Forrester report on the state of mobile commerce in Europe suggests a similar picture, with only 2% of respondents to their survey reporting purchasing products via their mobile phones, although 16% have used phones for shopping-related activities such as researching products.  However, smartphone owners are much more likely to engage in mobile shopping – and this is a rapidly growing group worldwide. The Gartner Group suggests that smartphones will account for 46% of total mobile phone sales worldwide by 2013, with Italy and Spain leading the way –in 2009, Nielsen estimated smartphone penetration in new mobile handsets purchased was 28% and 23% respectively, with the U.S. following at 17%. The message is clear: Smartphones are going to be key mobile shopping devices in future so it’s time for retailers to act, but they need to think about it from the consumer perspective.

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that the Wikileaks release of US diplomatic cables highlighted that we are living in an age of unprecedented transparency, one where information is increasingly a base of power – a base from which individuals can wield enormous influence in addition to countries and companies.  Whatever you believe about Wikileaks and its founder, the ongoing saga has brought into the public domain what many commentators have been speculating on and security experts fearing: Infowars.  Cyber-attacks have been carried out both on Wikileaks and on companies which have chosen to withhold services from the organization, by  loose, nameless (some call themselves Anonymous) communities of hackers using social media to organize themselves.   So what are some of the major pros and cons of radical transparency?

Some Pros

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Wikileaks – the story of the moment.  The question is: Is it a story of heroes or villains?  There are plenty of commentaries in the press on both sides, lots of emotions running high, egos (and security systems) dented and avid anticipation of what is next.  Taking the emotion out, there are some points on both sides in my view, and Wikileaks probably needs to do its homework better.  However, what is probably most interesting in this story is how the power of information, even in individual hands, can have a significant impact on geopolitics, societies and businesses.  We are living in an age of transparency, for better or for worse – and that has implications for how we live and operate, including unintended consequences. 

Starting with the story itself, let me just clarify upfront my personal view that freedom of speech is a critical part of democracy, as is whistle-blowing for the right reasons, i.e. to address actions and behaviours that are wrong whether legally or morally according to prevailing values and norms.  In which case you would probably be right in assuming that I should support some of Wikileaks activities, especially since their goals are:

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