The worlds of science, technology, creativity and business are set to collide in Amsterdam next week as PICNIC festival lays out a feast for the mind. Kitty Leering has been involved in PICNIC since it was created in 2006 and this year the festival is focused on the intriguingly-named phenomenon of ‘new ownership’, which sees technology and networks allowing power to trickle downwards. We caught up Kitty to find out more.
LBB> How has PICNIC evolved since its inception in 2006?
KL> The PICNIC Festival started out as the "Amsterdam Cross Media Week" and focused mainly on the so-called creative industry, with an emphasis on digital media. We were fascinated with all the technological innovations at that time: Philip Rosedale demoed Second Live, Craig Newmark presented CraigsIist, Biz Stone announced Twitter and Dennis Crowley talked about Foursquare.
Pretty soon, we started to shift our focus to how technology can play a role in solving global challenges. Sugata Mitra shared how technology changed the lives of impoverished children in India. Clay Shirky talked about the creative powers of "everybody". Nicholas Negroponte presented his ‘One Dollar per Laptop’ project. Bernard Lietaer explained the importance of local currency systems to fight the economic crisis and Matthias Hollwich envisioned happy aging. As of 2009, we also started to seriously expand to other domains of technology such as biotech and (more traditional) mechanic technologies (Maker movement and DIY culture).
Nowadays, PICNIC Festival focuses on mega trends like "Urbanization" (2011) and "New ownership" (2012) and the challenges that they bring. We firmly believe that challenges like these need to be discussed with all stakeholders involved if we want to develop sustainable solutions: business, government, the creative industries, education, non-profits and cultural institutions, knowledge networks, entrepreneurs and young talent.
The PICNIC Festival is therefore not an industry-specific event nor is it focused on a certain professional domain. The PICNIC Festival attracts a multi-disciplinary and cross-sectoral audience that shares visions, exchanges ideas and experiences, and works together to solve real world issues.
LBB> What have been your key memories from the past couple of years at PICNIC?
KL> Well, Woody Harrelson giving a yoga class in 2008 certainly was a picture one does not easily forget. Another great memory was Richard Branson awarding the first Green Challenge winner (for solutions which reduce CO2 emissions) with a prize money of 500.000 euros! Or Phil Zimbardo, the eminent Stanford psychologist on stage with his Adidas track pants. (He changed his costume after seeing our audience.) He started his presentation singing ‘Yellow Submarine’. Or the tweet of a PICNIC attendee stating “OMG, I am discussing the future Dream School with Jeff Jarvis!”. I guess there are too many great memories for the limited space of this interview.
LBB> What are you most looking forward to this year?
KL> I am really looking forward to see Tim O’Reilly speak. As one of the iconic leaders of the ‘open source’ principle and the driving force behind the ‘Makers’ movement, he is almost the embodiment of our theme. Also love the fact that we have Doc Searls to talk about the Intention Economy and the growing power of the consumer. And I also have high expectations of Louisa Heinrich, Strategy Director of Fjord, who will talk about how important it is to think about how the personal data of consumers and civilians are interpreted and processed.
LBB> The theme this year is 'New Ownership'. What does this mean and what inspired it as the theme?
KL> With "New Ownership", PICNIC is focusing on how technology is empowering people to drive change on a personal, business and global scale. While the Internet has democratized information as a power source, we have a growing insight into how our world is organized.
The principles of our society and business since the Industrial Age are based on exclusion: scarcity, hierarchy and centralization. This is increasingly incompatible with our current reality, which is based on values like sharing, inclusion, decentralization and participation. And we call that “New Ownership”.
PICNIC has addressed these issues since its creation in 2006, but it is only fairly recent that we see this development seep into every domain thinkable. We believe that this development is not just a small trend that will disappear again.
For the advertising world, this will have increasing consequences. It means that consumers fit less and less into the convenient idea of a passive and receiving end. Consumers want to actively engage with the brands that they are interested in. They want to be seen and treated as intelligent and independent individuals. And they want these brands to provide them with value beyond the consumption of their product or service. Like Jess Greenwood already said in 2009: “It is time to give something back. You have to do something that is at least useful, at least relevant and at least entertaining.” This year, we will hear from Andy Hood from AKQA on how far we’ve come since that time.
LBB> The idea that power is moving downwards is an interesting one - but how does it square with the anger directed at the 'one per centers' and the increasing concentration of wealth higher up the chain?
KL> That is a very good question. I think that change that is so profound and radical as the power shift that we are discussing here will always meet intense resistance. That is not so strange as we are looking at the disruption of the very principles that our world is built upon. And that is scary shit. Because change equals insecurity. And we do not like that. So, even though the number of people embracing (or merely accepting) the change is growing fast, the ‘old’ system is still dominant.
By the way, the new values of ‘New Ownership’ do not rule out that people can also stay interested in making money. But we do see a shift from money as a goal, to money as a tool.
LBB> Why do you think Amsterdam is the ideal location for a festival like PICNIC?
KL> All through history, Amsterdam has been known for its open mindedness and willingness to embrace new opportunities and ideas. This turns the city into a magnet for creative minds and companies from all over the world. In combination with the city’s cutting edge Internet infrastructure and high quality of life, this leads to fertile grounds for unconventional thinking. And that is the context that a festival like PICNIC needs.
LBB> When building up the festival programme, where do you start? What have you tried to achieve with this year's programme?
KL> Programming the festival actually is a fairly ‘organic’ process. Usually the first thoughts on the next festival’s theme appear while programming the preceding festival. I read as much as I can, talk to loads of people, including former PICNIC speakers, our program advisors and content partners. From all that input, the final theme and subtopics will surface.
The actual programming of PICNIC really is a co-creation. We invite knowledge institutions (mostly not for profit) with different backgrounds to contribute to our program with a panel, workshop or lab. These are interactive sessions that make up more than 80% of the PICNIC program. My task is to program the lectures and direct and guarantee the coherence in the rest of the program.
Working in this way guarantees the multi-disciplinary and cross-sectoral viewpoints that we find important to offer to our visitors. It would be impossible for us to do all of that ourselves.
LBB> As a lady with your finger on the pulse, what trends in business and creativity have been particularly exciting?
KL> In general, what I find really exciting is the growing acknowledgement that creativity is essential for (business) innovations. The time that creatives were regarded by business as the ‘vague bunch’ has really ended. Creative minds are now included on board level.
With regard to the advertising world, I think the realization that advertising can go beyond pushing messages and can actually play a very positive and meaningful role in the lives of its audience is very encouraging. There is a huge amount of money going into advertising every year. If we can direct some of that money to goals that supercede selling stuff, we are heading in the right direction. Check out the presentation and book of PICNIC 2011 speaker Mark Woerde, co-founder of the successful advertising agency Lemz: http://picnicnetwork.org/mark-woerde-1
LBB> What are your thoughts on gamification, which seems to be a bit of a buzzword at the moment? Does it represent an exciting new development, or is it just a fad?
KL> I think we first discussed the use of gaming principles outside the traditional gaming realm for the first time in 2009. In recent years, we have seen it pop-up everywhere. Especially the combination with serious gaming is interesting and I expect this to find exciting applications in several domains where learning and behavioral change is desired, like education and health(care). TNO, a leading research organization in the Netherlands and one of this year’s sponsors, will host a workshop on serious gaming which will teach participants how to set up a serious game.
LBB> The festival blurs the line between science, creativity and business - aside from the obvious flashy gizmos what can creatives, businesses and science learn from each other?
KL> Scientists, creatives and business people tend to look at the same thing very differently and that can be very educational. It can also widen your horizon and help your business, research or project further. A spectacular winning project from the Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Award (Da4Ga), that involved our founding partner Waag, featured Jalila Essaidi, an artists who wanted to make bullet proof skin, working closely with scientists that developed artificial spider silk. A crazy project, but she succeeded. And although more research needs to go into this, one can already guess from what industries (commercial) interest has been expressed.
LBB> I see you're a bit of a foodie - is that the inspiration behind the PICNIC name? And have you managed to incorporate that love of food into the festival in any way?
KL> Ha, now that is still something that is on my wish list ;-)