Future Centres

I went to a half-day seminar at the Hong Kong Science & Technology Park about Future Centres.  Four main presenters, Prof. W.B. Lee from HKPolyU, Mr. Hank Kune from the Netherlands and associated with the Dutch Future Centre network, Dr. Ron Dvir from Sweden and associated with Innovation Ecology and Prof. Leif Edvinsson founder of the Skandia Futures Centre and well-known for his work on intellectual capital.  This was prelude for the Knowledge Cities Summit starting tomorrow in Shenzhen, just across the boarder in China.  The summit will go on for 2 days and now I’m sorry I will miss it but I must concentrate on my school work.  Back to the future centres.  The HKSTP is very impressive; built on the waterfront of Tolo Harbour, a collection of about a dozen low by HK standard glass and steel towers on a green campus.   Its been a work in progress for years and rumor has it that it is having a hard time getting tenants.   There were quite a lot of people around at lunch but many of the towers looked rather empty.  It is a bit difficult to actually get to but by bus, train and bus I was there in just at an hour.  This is not bad considering I’m coming from Discovery Bay on Lantau Island which is about as far away as one can get in Hong Kong.

So what is a Futures Centre?  It seems to be a physical place which is outside of normal experience.  Hank Kune said “it is a place you can think outside of your normal mental patterns.”  It is not just meeting rooms but really different physical places, with unusual colours, unusual furniture – just generally unusual – sometimes quite jarring.  The concept is that by putting people in a new, different and unusual environment they will think about the future more easily.  Well ok, I guess this may be true.  The analogy is that most inspiration happens when people are doing something like hiking, going to the theatre, taking a shower and so on.  Somewhere it was decided that Future Centre meant Innovation Centre.  I’m not too sure when that happened but it was never questioned by the group.  Can we re-create and facilitate this sort of spontaneous innovation space and call it a Future Centre?  From the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Finland and the UK they gave us examples of Future Centres.  Typically associated with government bureaus and departments but there were a few examples from banks and the like.  Places where people could have the time to think about what may happen.  There were some impressive results – start-up companies formed, conflicts eased between bureaucrats and   construction industry , faster and more consolidated public service and so on.

Dr. Ron Dvir talked abou the Operating System for Future Centres and what that OS is made up of.  You can find a short list on his website here.   He came up with a much longer list so I’ll list them all again here.  Think how all of these can come together to create a space where people while embrace the future – lots of Nonaka’s ば, ba, here.

  • Value proposition
  • What are future centres
  • Building blocks
  • Models
  • Metaphors
  • Future centre as BA – ば
  • Organizational perspectives
  • Methodological perspectives
  • Physical perspectives
  • Technological perspectives
  • People
  • Results & Impact
  • Lifecycle
  • Business models
  • Permanence management
  • Visit
  • Play
  • Meet
  • Watch
  • Prototype
  • Innovate
  • Futurize

Prof. Edvinsson asked what would be the opportunity cost of not doing a Future Centre.  DaVinci entertained his patrons with his games, puzzles and ideas and used that income to fund his serious work.  It seems as reasonable as any other explanation, although I do think DaVinci made some money in building war machines for some Italian princes.   Prof. Edvinsson left us with a new word ‘actuality’ defined as what will happen in 0-12 seconds – apparently this is via Prof. Nonaka.

We toured the HKSTP briefly and saw some very well-kitted out rooms with science museum like games and activities.   A brain-storming center with a dozen laptops and a 4 huge screen overheard where participants could ‘brainstorm’ quickly and efficiently.  I don’t think my comment that 2.5 million HK dollars (my quick mental arithmetic on the kit) was needed to build something that could be done with post-it notes and a white board was well-received.   It was impressive and it would give almost perfect anonymity to the brain-storming participants.  Some of the other kit, like the brain wave game, was purely fun.  Are these rooms a Future Centre?  Most people agreed that the rooms were not the critical factor but rather the facilitation of using the rooms is what would make them become a Future Centre.  Now they are just rooms with fancy kit.

I spoke to a senior manager at the HKSTP at the end and it was revealing that  most of the 300 or so companies in the complex do not have any explicit knowledge management role in their organizational structure.  The HKSTP doesn’t have any group who facilitate knowledge management for the complex as a whole.   This is disappointing because the HKSTP is one of the most knowledge using intensive places in Hong Kong.  Maybe it will change in the future.

1 Comment »

  1. […] ‘Knowledge Cities’ conference held in Shenzhen, China in November, see my post about Future Centres. I didn’t attend that conference but I did catch Jay Chatzkel seminar on 9 November, […]

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