You don’t get to stand next to your Prime Minister every day - let alone be able to debate with him in front of 300 fellow entrepreneurs in a majestic theatre.
Last Wednesday, I had the chance to do so during the ‘Meet the Government’ event in the Royal Theatre in The Hague. The event was organized by the leading Dutch business media: FD (the Dutch Financial Times) and BNR (Business News Radio). You can see a photo slideshow of the event here
Dutch entrepreneurs, ranging from freelancers and directors of small businesses to CEO’s of some of the biggest Dutch companies (such as Stork and Randstad), were able to discuss and debate with our Prime Minister Mark Rutte. After his speech (which can be read here, in Dutch),
four entrepreneurs in two teams were asked to debate with the PM on one of the two given themes of the night:
1) The Netherlands needs to attract more foreign talents and businesses
2) The Netherlands needs to ensure it better develops its own talents
I was debating on the last theme. During the introduction by the facilitator, the audience was asked if they knew about Augmented Reality. Mark Rutte immediately showed he knew perfectly well what Layar was by holding up his hands as if he was looking through his mobile, and said he really liked the technology. Now that’s a good start!
Here’s a summary in English of my speech (originally in Dutch):
“In the less than two years of the existence of our company, the context in which we operate has changed tremendously. We are continuously re-inventing ourselves - what we introduced less than a year ago is already completely outdated.
But not only my reality is changing. As we know from recent history, technical innovations which have a large impact on the way we interact, live, consume and produce are coming at us at an ever increasing speed. This change is a given.
But as human beings are not all by nature capable of coping with rapid changes - and the systems and processes we create usually aren’t either, these are big challenges our modern society is facing.
As this is a very broad theme and I have only 3 minutes, I will focus on one aspect: Knowledge.
There is a lot to do about knowledge, and the ‘Knowledge Economy’ [Kenniseconomie]. But in a world where knowledge is being transported to and shared with the other side of the globe in less than seconds, and is outdated the moment it has been invented, I dare to say that the term “Knowledge Economy” should be replaced.
Having or consuming knowledge is not of much value. Value and a leading position can be achieved in an environment where new and unique knowledge can be created, shared, built upon and applied. So it’s all about Thought Leadership and Innovation.
How can we optimize the creation, sharing, evolution and application of unique knowledge?
Unique knowledge is being created by unique people with unique talents. However, in our Dutch culture where ‘please act normal - that’s already crazy enough’ [Doe maar gewoon dan doe je al gek genoeg] is deep in our genes, this is easier said than done. We tend to spend a lot of energy on behaving to ‘the norm’. Look around you - also here today, everybody is wearing dark grey suits. Even I put on my black dress. The only things that distinguishes me from you are perhaps my high heels and my big pregnant tummy.
And regarding knowledge sharing. Our current educational systems are set up in a very traditional way: the teacher teaches and the pupil or student listens. Knowledge is being transferred and being tested in exams. When you are able to reproduce the knowledge, you get high marks and eventually your diploma.
But where does this system leave us when knowledge is outdated almost the moment it is being transferred? Why don’t we put students in the place of the teachers at school - and let everybody discuss and build upon the lecture material? Great new insights can be created!
Now I’d like to come to my two pieces of advice to our Prime Minister, as stated on the screen.
1) Learn how to speak in public. It is still possible to graduate from University, without having been trained in any public speaking. Super-smart students who get a 9 at their final exam but who are not even capable of bringing their message across verbally, in a human-to-human interaction, are pretty useless to society. Usually at international conferences, the Dutch are pretty much blown away by Americans with their speaking skills.
Everybody, from primary school until university and beyond, should be stimulated to sharing thoughts, and develop both verbal and non-verbal communication skills.
2) Embrace unique talents
We should emphasize much more on what is unique and different and embrace these - instead of (and now I am looking especially at you, media and journalists!) criticizing, just for the sake of being critical. When our company had raised 10 million EUR in funding and we already had 40 employees, a not-to-be-named leading Dutch newspaper was referring to us as ‘The little Amsterdam software company’ [softwarebedrijfje] and ‘Boonstra’s little company…’.
I am rushing to say that this complaint is not about us, but in general about the ‘Calimero-thinking’ in Dutch media. ‘If it is from Holland it can’t be big’.
Show that it pays off to be unique! Put unique people in the spotlights and serve them as great examples for others to be inspired by.
Thank you very much!”
Here’s the radio version
of the speech (in Dutch). You can also listen to the entire event
on April 9 via livestreaming on BNR, starting at 8h35 (my speech starts at 10h04).
The speech was well received. Mr Rutte came to stand next to me and complimented me on the story. He acknowledges the need for better speaking skills: “… also our government would benefit from better speaking skills ….” :-)
Passionate Prime Minister
Mark Rutte is remarkably passionate and energetic. He fully stands on the side of entrepreneurs. He even gave his cell phone number to some - emphasizing his personal commitment to entrepreneurship in the Netherlands, saying “Just call me if there is a problem I can personally help you with.”
Events like this always help me with the de-mystification of world leaders. They are tied with all hands to their context - coalition partners, social and cultural context, established systems and customs, etc. It is always so easy to complain from the sidelines and to know better. The best thing we can do, in my opinion, is to set a good example ourselves and show the world how things should be done.
Only scratching the surface of the subject
Given the length of my speech and the audience, I couldn’t go very deep into the subject of education renewal. It is a subject which really resonates with me and my fellow Layar founders. We are very much inspired by this presentation on Social Learning
by Tribal Cafe:
All in all, it was a great experience. The big changes in society keep us busy every day. They influence us, and we want to pay a positive contribution to it - as a company, with our products and personally. In all these aspects, we’re only getting started…