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Smart Cities -- Smart People -- Smart Planet

Judith E. Glaser   |   December 7, 2013    2:36 PM ET

By Judith E. Glaser

I've been fascinated by IBM for decades. They are one of the few companies who have been able to figure out how to reinvent themselves radically, from a product-centric company to a services-centric company. They continue to innovate in areas beyond their corporate-footprint -- for example a spectacular initiative called Smarter Cities.

Thinking Up the Future
We all know that IBM has the ability to generate tons of data. Now they also have developed the ability to make the data "smart" and predict the future. In Smarter Cities projects they are using data to predict ways to change traffic patterns, how to restructure highways, and how to enable higher levels of urban mobility, so that cities can optimize how they make decisions around traffic flow -- flow in the future -- enabling people to move with greater ease from place to place.

Because IBM is using a systems approach, they are able to improve how cities offer their citizens services. Data enables key decision makers to make smart economic choices about growth that will make cities of the future easier to navigate. Their strategy is to get in front of the curve, seeing and transforming problems before they become problems.

Talented executives at IBM, such as Michael Dixon, are laying down a foundation of trust with cities, spawning an ability to have foresight into how to transform cities for the future. IBM is moving the needle on giving back to the world and creating more "generative thinking" about how cities and companies can co-create the future.

Dixon says of the project: "The government has been traditionally built as separate entities with specific specialization. Through the rise of interconnectivity we see people breaking down walls... asking questions that are bigger and seeing connections that we never saw before." Michael reflected, "Can I make it more attractive to get people to move through different transport systems to optimize the results.... less congestion -- flow of traffic during the day. How can this data help us translate policy differently, and influence pricing, or even to help make decisions where capital investments can be best placed?"

Co-creating Conversations Change the World
What Michael Dixon describes is what I call "Co-creation." Trust, from a neurochemical point of view, is the foundation for all collaborative thinking, Trust lives in the prefrontal cortex, also called the "Executive Brain," and is the most advanced part of our brain. Distrust lives in the Reptilian Brain, the oldest part of our brain -- which is also where fear lives. When we live in a state of fear, our brain is spraying cortisol -- the fear hormone -- everywhere, activating a lock-down in our brain in the areas that provide us with foresight, trust, collaboration, and innovative/strategic thinking. When we are threatened, distrusted, and fearful, we focus on protecting ourselves from harm. When we trust ourselves and others, our brains open up and we can access an extraordinary ability to think with foresight -- as though we have a holographic ability to process wisdom and insight out of data.

I constantly search for examples of companies and individuals who are exercising the capacity to activate "pre-frontal functions" and I track what they produce. My research around co-creation and neurochemistry leads me to believe that IBM and Michael Dixon are on to something quite spectacular.

Conversational Intelligence Goes Global

The Smarter Cities projects are examples of IBM using their Conversational Intelligence. They are asking big questions -- questions for which they have no answers -- and living in the questions, even in the face of ambiguity. They are listening to connect the dots that others are not connecting and not being afraid to explore. They are examining what at first looks like disparate data points and bringing them together to harvest bigger insights that can impact how cities are designed or redesigned, making it easier to navigate our world together. This is an example of far-reaching aspirations and it's a way to anchor "new thinking" about the really big challenges we are facing and "create a space" to think imaginatively about them without judgment

Conversational Intelligence Shapes the Future
One of the most amazing things about Conversational Intelligence (C-IQ) is that once we release the energy for "activating" C-IQ, something happens that is bigger than any one of us could imagine. As with IBM, the energy for creating transformation goes well beyond the immediate players -- it infuses a new level of enthusiasm into the cities. As conversations about the future of a city grow and expand to include more people, I learned that city leaders are beginning to realize the power of big data to bring these insights into reality. They are seeing that the changes emerging in how "traffic flows" can not only have an impact on practical everyday conveniences, they can also impact the "vital identity of the cities themselves." City leaders are seeing the rise of a greater sense of pride in their communities. People begin to ask "what are the aspirations of our cities?" and they are beginning to think in a more connected way about their cities. Cities are developing their identity through co-creating conversations!

Quality of the Conversations...
When the quality of conversations move from Level I -- where people are confirming what they know, to Level II -- where people are defending what they know -- and then into Level III -- where people are discovering what they don't know about the possibilities of the future, then something dramatically exciting happens.

Level III conversations elevate city leaders into city visionaries who are committed to getting outcomes with big impact. City leaders are evolving a more visionary way of thinking -- where "I know what I want, and I'll work with business and private sectors to make things happen." It's not just about IBM having a solution to sell, it's about companies like IBM figuring out how to partner with cities, and engage many different departments to think together and co-create together in ways they've never before imagined. And when they do, big data gets translated into big business results.

As we raise the level of conversational intelligence in projects like Smarter Cities, and increase the interconnectivity of stakeholders from government to business, from local to global, we can see people breaking down walls, listening to connect, asking questions that are bigger than they have ever asked before, and seeing extraordinary ways to improve not only our cities, but to also enhance our planet!

Judith E. Glaser, CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. and the Chairman of The CreatingWE Institute. She is also an Organizational Anthropologist, and author of 7 books -- 4 are business book best sellers including her recent best selling book -- Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion, 2013);;;

How Smart Are Public-Private Partnerships?

Jeffrey Inaba   |   January 12, 2011    1:44 PM ET

A while back Jennifer Crozier of IBM's Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs blogged about the company's Smarter Cities Challenge, a new public-private partnership aimed at assisting cities. As municipalities search for ways to reduce costs in the face of budget shortfalls, such offerings of "corporate citizenship" can help to support public services. But they also call attention to the need to examine the decision-making process for improving cities. Public-private partnerships draw skepticism because some believe they don't adequately address the public's interest. Rather than presume public-private partnerships are either necessary or necessarily evil, we ought to encourage local leaders to establish a set of urban goals and describe the means they will use to achieve them, including the criteria for partnerships with businesses.

Public-private partnerships operate in various ways. Knowing about two types will shed light on important choices cities make. One concerns the arrangement between a local government and corporation to deliver a municipal service(s), which Crozier writes about. The other is the de facto relationship where a company offers without obligation a civic amenity.

The latter type can be a good indicator of a provision that the public sector once administered but it has since curtailed or whose quality has declined. The arrangement is not a partnership in the traditional sense but rather an adaptive, informal action by a business to offer a public service that has become scarce in the city. These provisions contribute to the quality of urban life, and in turn, to the company's reputation with customers. One area in which this has thrived is access to information. By having spaces for customers to read, Barnes & Noble and other book retailers make available a public resource. Patrons can sit, browse, and research a wide range of topics, receive assistance in finding material -- and because of its longer hours, larger breadth of titles, and better reference staff, it's an environment many prefer to frequent instead of their local library.

These accommodations are happening amid misgivings about the bookstore's public counterpart -- the library. As a recent New York Times article explains, even municipalities in fairly good financial standing have opted to engage for-profit companies to manage their library systems. In defense, some profiled cities say such a partnership ensures the library's survival in trying economic times by trimming operational costs. But it doesn't explain what larger purpose these cities have in mind for their collective services. If a city is vague about its overall plan then community concern can arise about the city's priorities and budget management. Even under extremely unpredictable economic circumstances having a provisional strategic plan will lessen the public's uncertainty as it will help to explain the process for determining which services will be reduced, outsourced, or eliminated. More importantly, it minimizes the risk that city services will be governed in an ad hoc manner. Because the private sector has become an active partner, a plan is also necessary in order to state where government responsibility ends and for-profit business begins. As the NYT piece points out, when this isn't clear an intense debate can occur over whether a public service should be entrusted to a for-profit entity. Citizens worry that elected officials are not sufficiently considering civic ideals when confronted with the immediate demand to lessen expenditures, and doubt that a company contracted to lower operating costs and which seeks to optimize its profits will act on their behalf.

One kind of public-private partnership that assists cities to establish a development plan is corporate philanthropy. As Crozier describes, numerous major companies have philanthropic foundations that give grants to cities to enhance municipal operations. For these endeavors to work it is critical that if and when these companies do business with cities they go out of their way to differentiate between their socially-minded and business activities.

Unlike the philanthropies Crozier applauds such as Living Cities and Cities of Service which give money to a local council to in turn fund an initiative the city has defined, IBM Foundation's Smarter Cities Challenge bestows grants in the form of the company's own consulting services and technology. The grants are intended to assist governments in creating an overarching "city-wide strategy" where all operations are integrated into an "interdependent system of systems." Since it entails the private sector's participation in shaping the public services framework at the highest level, it would be useful to city administrations, the public, and IBM alike if Big Blue clarifies the program's philanthropic intent. Critical to the successful marketing and implementation of this extremely generous (50 Million USD) program is to delineate between the social mission of the non-profit Smarter Cities Challenge and the business goals of its for-profit unit, Integrated Service Management for Smarter Cities. Not doing so places the program at peril of appearing to benefit the company indirectly by introducing its services and products to the administrators who are prospective future paying clients of those wares. In cases of such grants to cities, companies need to communicate the procedures that ensure their foundation's giving policies put the public's interest first.

In the coming year as cities search for ways to offset essential services, pay down debt, fulfill pension obligations, and in some cases stave off bankruptcy, public-private partnerships will increase in popularity as an effective cost saving option. Crozier's piece reveals the invaluable role of corporate philanthropy as one type of partnership to fund projects that intelligently aid cities. These important efforts will serve localities best if there is strong leadership by government, including the drafting of a strategic plan that outlines a criteria for making decisions that specify a system of accountability for acting in the community's interest. In fact, many of the leading philanthropies, such as the ones Crozier cites, involve non-profit public advocacy groups as core partners to make certain that what matters to communities are incorporated into programs they fund. We believe this needs to be an integral component of urban partnerships since their input helps to create plans that can garner public support, philanthropic momentum, and capital investment to improve city services, and by extension, the quality of urban experience.