Is The Future Smart?

In “The Smart Growth Manifesto,” Havas Media Lab’s Umair Haque points to a wholesale collapse of “old” things:

Obama is stimulating. Davos is deliberating. C-levels are eliminating. Wall St is recriminating. Welcome to the macropocalypse: no one, it seems, can put the global economy back together again.

He asks: “It’s time to reboot capitalism. So where do we begin?”

Haque’s main thrust is that the 20th century is failing because it was “dumb” and that in order to best grow, we need to be “smart.” 


Here are the four pillars of smart growth – for economies, communities, and corporations:

1. Outcomes, not income. Dumb growth is about incomes – are we richer today than we were yesterday? Smart growth is about people, and how much better or worse off they are – not merely how much junk an economy can churn out. . . .

2. Connections, not transactions. Dumb growth looks at what’s flowing through the pipes of the global economy: the volume of trade. Smart growth looks at how pipes are formed, and why some pipes matter more than others: the quality of connections. . . .

3. People, not product. The next time you hear an old dude talking about “product”, let him know the 20th century ended a decade ago. Smart growth isn’t driven by pushing product, but by the skill, dedication, and creativity of people. . . .

4. Creativity, not productivity. Uh-oh: Creativity is an economic four-letter word. Why? Because it’s hard to measure, manage, and model. So economists focus on productivity instead — and the result is dumb growth. Smart growth focuses on economic creativity – because creativity is what let us know that competition is creating new value, instead of just shifting old value around. . . .

Time was when such a list would seem spot-on to me, a needed blast of clarity.

But these days, when I hear the word “smart” used in such a catch-all way, my urge is usually to put my watch in my shoe. It’s very tempting to create an intellectual framework where old things are bad and new things are, well, new and therefore better. I have soured on “smart” things of late — at least insofar as I look to “smart” systems to set the stage for innovation and revoluion.

Why? I look back at the great innovations of our time — the telphone, the World Wide Web, the notion of self-rule, online social-networks — and I see genius striking when and where it happens to be found, when the time is right (or even when it isn’t). I tend to look skeptically on efforts to harness growth (or innovation).

Great progress always comes in fits and starts, in disruptive ways. By definition, it seems to me, it can’t be planned-out.

One thought on “Is The Future Smart?”

  1. I don’t interpret the way Umair uses “smart” to denote “new” or “structured”; what Umair is evangelizing is the idea of understanding and leveraging the full costs and benefits of our actions, about developing strategies, not tactics, about opening yourself to create and take advantage or more disruptive fits and starts.

    Listen to this and tell me what you think:

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