Neelie Kroes: take the risky road

Nieuws | de redactie
4 september 2012 | She wants technology ‘humanised’ again. At the start of the academic year European Commissioner Neelie Kroes put it to the students in Delft University that “soon they will be in control and cannot blame their professors, bankers, politicians and employers to fix things.”

“I want to talk about the theme ofinnovation at a higher level, by highlighting more depth andgreater perspective compared to how political parties currentlytalk about it. I want to connect it to:

1. The position of the Netherlands inEurope

2. The position of Europe in the world

3. Sustainability

4. The humanisation of the world.

1. Creative destruction

The Netherlands can participate indeveloping, applying and disseminating progressive IT anddigitisation for new, sustainable products and processes that bringprosperity quantitatively and qualitatively higher consumers aroundthe world, now and in future. This can give way to meaningful andhigh-quality employment. This program is only feasible with aninteractive Europe. The discussion on the financial and monetaryaspects of the crisis has diverted too much attention away fromthis innovative route to sustainable economic and socialdevelopment. The implementation of the Digital Agenda is thevehicle for “creative destruction”: the term the Austrian economistJoseph Schumpeter (1883-1950), used to characterise what ishappening in the world: demolishing the old and creating thenew.

2. All in the same boat

Given that this process is happeningelsewhere in the world, no country in Europe – not even Germany -can maintain its position alone when competing with the globalstrength of new emerging economies. Europe musttherefore work together sensibly. The current financialrestructuring at EU level is a sign of Europe’s growing sustainableand qualitative economic development, which can compete with otherblocs in the world.

3. Meaningfuldiscoveries

Sustainable economic development will leadto massive investment and meaningful employment but it requirescontinuous innovation. This is above all about impressive gains forThe Netherlands, Europe and the world. Gains which consumersexperience with increased prosperity. Improving the environment,clean drinking water for everyone, sustainable energy and reducingclimate threats are tangible improvements for citizens. So here aretremendous opportunities for innovative businesses that respond tonew needs and which the Digital Agenda also provides for.Economists who believe that the environment only costs money do notsee, for example, that the renovation of all houses in TheNetherlands would fulfill private and social needs more forsustainability than building new offices and homes which remainempty. Sustainability is the future.

4. Humanise businesses

By this I mean that the people in question,i.e. in their role as consumers, should come back into the picture- in corporations, healthcare and education where there is talk of’dehumanisation’. The Digital Agenda can serve this purpose.

Europe faces many challenges these days. Ifwe don’t adapt – quite simply, we may not be able to keep thosehappy lifestyles. When I say challenges, I don’t just mean theeconomic crisis. There is also, for example, the challenge ofmanaging energy resources in a world of climate change. Or thechallenge of a society that’s getting older, and more dependent.All these, and more.

What’s my prescription? It’s that we need tomake the most of our strengths. Here are three things inparticular.

Linking themarkets 

First, in Europe, we are privileged tobelong to the biggest single market in the world, and a communityof common values. For the Netherlands, the EU accounts forthree quarters of our exports – exports worth 120 billion euros ayear, and 1.5 million jobs. The economic benefits are clear. Butthat link between our markets, and between our 500 millioncitizens, didn’t happen by accident. It happened thanks to vision,to a spirit of innovation and cooperation. We should be inspired bythat example. Because we can’t face up to the challenges ahead bycalling each other names. Nor by complaining about our neighboursand partners. Nor by pretending we could do without them. No: thatwon’t work. Plenty of other parts of the world are ready to raceahead of us. We must keep up, and so we must work together.

Let me give just one, simple, example ofhow. Wireless devices – your phone, your smartphone, your WiFirouter – they only work thanks to radio spectrum. Well, thatspectrum is becoming extremely precious; demand is growingexponentially. Each year, wireless broadband use doubles.We’ll haveto deal with that issue. And we should do so collectively andcooperatively. Otherwise tomorrow’s smartphone may just stopworking when you cross the border.

Today, the European Commission set out howthe “shared use” of spectrum can fuel innovation for wirelessdevices.This is a bold and essential proposal. If we work together,we can deliver something essential to our citizens’ futures. If wedon’t, we could strangle the wireless revolution.

Seize all opportunities

The second thing to do to secure our future,is to grab every opportunity we have. Technology is one of thoseopportunities. Particularly Information and CommunicationsTechnology. Its amazing potential offers me so much hope. Make nomistake: ICT is huge. The new services the Internet enables giveyou so much more efficiency, that the Internet helps smallcompanies grow twice as fast, creates 5 jobs for every 2 lost,gives a massive boost to GDP. No wonder ICT provides half ofEurope’s productivity growth. Already, today, Europe’s Interneteconomy is bigger than The Netherlands, and growing faster thanChina. There seems no limit to it. Of course ICT delivers not justgrowth, but government services, healthcare, education,electricity. As we saw in the Arab Spring: digital tools can evendeliver democratic change!

And technology makes it easier than ever todo things differently. Online, you don’t have to ask anyone’spermission to innovate. It’s cheaper, easier, less risky. Barriersto entry are low; what counts is energy, boldness, and beingempowered. That’s why you and your generation, can achieve morethan mine ever could. And if you can tap just a small fraction ofthat potential, of that innovation, there’s more than enough tokeep us all afloat.

Nurture the talent

The third thing we need is to use the hugetalent we have here in Europe. I saw that talent on display lastweek in Berlin, at “Campus Party”. 10,000 young innovators andinventors between 16 and 30, all dedicated to tackling newchallenges, to finding new solutions, and prepared to work day andnight to deliver them.

And I saw that talent today here in Delft.Some very clever young guys using modelling to solve the world’sproblems, from simulating brain activity, to predicting floods. Andone fantastic company, founded by Delft graduates, makingelectronic chips in a very innovative way. I also recently visiteda waste factory in Rotterdam which made new products out of thewaste. I know there’s a lot of talent waiting to emerge right herein this room, too. Remember, it’s our number one resource. Use itwisely. But here’s one more thing. The reason why I’m telling youall this.

Up until now, when things have gone wrong,it’s someone else’s fault, someone else’s job to fix it: yourparents, your professors, your employer; bankers, bureaucrats,politicians. But soon, for you students, it willbe your generation in control. You and your colleaguesmaking the decisions that affect people’s lives. Then it’s going tobe your responsibility to fix it, and you to blame if we don’t.Take that seriously. Don’t make the same mistakes as the currentgeneration. Understand your responsibilities; and step up to them.To do that, to solve the world’s problems, you will need seriousskills, know-how and experience. From now on, equipping yourselfwith those things is your duty.

And for you, faculty in the room, you have aduty too. A duty to teach your students how to learn, and how toinnovate. A duty to ensure they take nothing for granted. A duty toensure they dare to be bold. That’s the environment whereinnovation thrives; and change happens. If I have one piece ofadvice for all of you today, it’s this: don’t be afraid to take arisk. And don’t be afraid to try out a different kind ofcareer.

Take the risky road

If people tell you the only good job is safejob in a big organisation with a nice pension: ignore them. That’sone lifestyle – but not the only one. You could also beself-employed. A freelancer. A consultant. Anentrepreneur. An innovator. Whatever you want. But only YOUcan decide what the right path is – and then don’t let anything, oranyone, stand in your way. Because quite simply, we won’t innovateand adapt if people play it safe. We need entrepreneurs, preparedto take a risk, prepared to try things out. So do try it. If itdoesn’t work, don’t worry: failing is the most important, mostinstructive thing you’ll ever do in life. And if it does work,maybe you’ll have found something you’re amazing at, an idea thatworks, a change to improve our world. Now is the time in your lifetake those kind of risks. So take advantage.

I’m going to leave you with just one morethought. I remember when I was at university, all the things Idreamed of, and all the schemes I had. I remember most of allbelieving then that I could do them all by myself. But at somepoint you’ll realise you’re just one among a huge crowd of others.Just one of those birds in that flock you saw on the video earlier.Just one person working your way among a swell of individuals, eachseeking their own path, moving in their own way. And just likethose birds, you won’t stay static. You’ll lead and follow, disbandand regroup, innovate and learn, organise and adapt. And the resultwill be amazing.”

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