Thursday, May 11, 2006

California Uber Alles

Today I am reminiscing about my experiences working in economic development in Scotland and my roles there as a private consultant, and in working for a very well known Economic Development Agency which is now hitting the skids because its overspent its budget, overcommitted this year's budget and is having a lot of wrist slapping going on...

I remember the time with the folks in Strategy at SE were smitten by the 'Californian' economic model and all sorts of bloody nonsense came out of it...

- the regular trips of SE executives to such places as San Jose, etc. I ruminated on this when I was conducting workshops for them as a consultant in places like Kilmarnock and Cumbernauld etc. San Jose is a bit different to the realities of the Scottish economy!
- the sheer nonsense of the language they picked up from Californian based consultants - just going on about all sorts of crap really. Such as 'empowered networks'
- The Strategic Futures Team - billed as "evangelisers, futurists and practitioners". Well, I could label them all as nut jobs really.
- e.g. from the SE website "Between 1996 and 1999 the Strategic Futures Team within Scottish Enterprise – a young and enthusiastic team of about 10 people – acted as fellow evangelisers, futurists and practitioners. It enjoyed the freedom to think differently, to challenge long-held assumptions, to introduce new ideas to the organisation and to develop new tools and techniques to support this activity. This was an immensely exciting time when new insights were made and new networks of like-minded staff became established. Over time, the sphere of influence extended across the organisation’s 2000 or so employees and beyond to public and private sector organisations throughout Scotland." ha ha ha. What bullsh*t.
- they had the temerity to then become Richard Florida converts and then they replaced the annoying stuff about California with annoying stuff about "Creative Class" etc.

- "Two particular learning journeys were organised by Scottish Enterprise during the late 1990s. One of these involved a group of 10 business leaders from the Forth Valley area who were taken to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1998 to learn about the emergence of the ‘new economy’. They were introduced to some remarkable individuals and organisations in the Bay Area and experienced at first hand different and often radical approaches to such issues as economic inclusion, leadership and organisational development."

The moral of the story for me was that they were looking for easy answers. And they found some, but with no real insights. They came back with evangelising slogans. As an ex-boss of mine used to say - if I want religion I'll go down the church. I.e. it doesn't belong in economics. Rather than get down to the hard work of analysing the Scottish economy and its relationship to the rest of the world, and analysing the underlying reasons for regional competitiveness and performance in places like California (at that time) they just looked at vague notions and sexy ideas. Which ultimately were proved wrong.

The Californian economy - recent serious problems.

Richard Florida - widely debunked, he even debunked himself recently.

Lastly - working in Scottish Enterprise a few years ago we were affected by power outages due to building work going on. I suggested that "yeh does that mean we are starting the be more like California - with regular power outages!?!".