Aux actes, citoyens! de l'indignation à l'action (Rise Up, Citizens! from Exasperation to Action)


ISSN: 1463-6689

Article publication date: 18 October 2011



Richardson, J. (2011), "Aux actes, citoyens! de l'indignation à l'action (Rise Up, Citizens! from Exasperation to Action)", Foresight, Vol. 13 No. 6, pp. 88-90.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Your reviewer has endured countless workshops on the slowness of innovation in France and the reasons therefore – education too theoretical, inadequate official encouragement of research, insufficient funding from suspicious lenders, patent processes too slow, poorly motivated foresight. “Enough complaining!” protest authors Sérieyx and Portnoff: it is never too soon, they say, to overcome what they call inventive “torpor” and get down to practicalities. Their exhortations, well‐founded and well‐intentioned, should also fall on welcoming ears in any number of emerging countries, nations led today by the ambitious BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

But torpor, really? In a country – France – largely responsible for the early development of thermodynamics, modern optics, cinematography, preventive biomedicine, the Aerobus and dozens of other examples of scientific‐technical progress? Yes, say the authors, torpor to the point of creative inertia (in what is, none the less, the world's fifth largest economy and Europe's second). “Since the end of the 1970s, we've pushed to have the French and Europeans discover the managerial revolution that transformed Japan […] that Japanese competitiveness was not the product of the massive exploitation of robots […] but the mobilization of everyone, forsaking the treatment of humans as machines. Talk of quality control, for instance, was often misunderstood because the [French] translation contrôle was repressive rather than signifying mastery […].”

In a section titled “Let's reject the deadly shortsightedness of unthinking managers concerned with only the short term”, the authors explain that “recourse to quality circles and other devices used to recognize the talents and willingness of on‐the‐spot operators works only under decentralized management […]”. A combined effort is essential between managers and the managed, in other words, to attain collective goals. Even better, associating trades unions with evolving company decisions is known to spur competition and bolster innovation. This is easier said than done in cultures whose traditional company barriers discretely separate managers (doing the “thinking”) from the working elements (executing “orders”). And yet, in tiered societies such as those of Germany and France, it is a fact that many profitable innovations originate on the shop floor.

1 Offshoring and other corporate behavior

The authors urge decision makers to think twice about offshoring and the danger of divorcing production from R&D. They cite the case of a large French electronics manufacturer who elected to move to Singapore to flee from the higher salaries at home while, simultaneously, Sony and Toshiba were tooling up to manufacture the same appliances in France. The difference in motivations? The Japanese giants were more concerned with long‐term and global success; the French firm demanded higher short‐term returns for shareholders (note: the French company no longer exists, swallowed by another). As wages rise in many developing countries, authors Portnoff and Sérieyx thus join others currently debating the real value of offshoring; or, if the deed is already done, seriously to apply foresight that will eventuate in “backshoring”.

Intelligent corporate behavior is an insistent note played by Sérieyx and Portnoff throughout their book. They stress that it is insufficient to invest in intelligence, that it is ever more important to do this intelligently. Too many staff‐training budgets, when firms sought a way out of the 2008 recession, were decided by CEOs. There one might learn, glass in hand at cocktail receptions, that a colleague was investing another 0.5 percent of total expenditures on salaries in further training, and then did the same in his own firm.

“Today”, say the authors, “readjustments work rather the other way round: not necessarily more intelligently, either. When discussions emerging from the [2008] crisis remain essentially quantitative, rigorous policy demands cutting expenses, something easy to do […] but destructive. Governments, too, engage in downsizing. It would be revolutionary and more useful to decide to spend better in order to produce higher value through more efficiency.”

Spending better, whether for R&D or daily operations, is an admonition to which the authors return often – as is their repeated appeal to think big and think system. “When a specialist physician administers us a medication intended to treat a disease within his competence without worrying about secondary effects” (p. 84), “we run the real risk of ending in hospital. The idea that life is holistic and [medical research] cannot progress without a systemic view of a living organism is still not fully accepted.”

How faulty are France's educational schemes in breeding effective interdisciplinarity and, especially, intersectorality? Considerable, according to authors Sérieyx and Portnoff, and they are not the only ones who think so. The current minister of education and research, Valérie Pécresse, recently told journalist D.D. Guttenplan that since 1968 her country's universities are split according to disciplines. Within the capital itself, there are “eight universities, organized thematically” (law, medicine, science, human and social sciences including management, and so forth). “That's not how you do good research and good teaching in the twenty‐first century”, she added. If Edward Lorenz's systemic butterfly can activate a tornado far away, Portnoff and Sérieyx insist that the same lepidopteron can also prevent a maelstrom. Plan and method are admirable, in other words, but especially as they apply to context and system.

2 Tax breaks and social networking

Financial encouragement, especially of small enterprises, can present inescapable disappointments. The authors point out that in recent years very large firms in their country devoured as much as 70 percent of State funds intended to support research and innovation, while dynamic companies employing less than 250 persons received as little as 9 percent. This contrasts with the more than 60 percent that comparable employers in Finland, Denmark and Spain could count on. Tax credits for R&D obviously help, provided that they offset research costs sufficiently.

In the industrial democracies, our freedom, remind the authors, “allows us to innovate, be entrepreneurial and influential by reinforcing our industrial fabric and so that [what they call] 2.0 society can be collaborative, cooperative, imaginative and a source of reliance […] [C]omplexity is not governed centrally despite what […] those nostalgically [yearning] for pyramidal powers believe […].” They add that the internet is interactively logical, facilitating exchanges between peers.

Surely broader and more intensive use of Web 2.0 possibilities will help small and medium firms to advertise themselves, both in terms of exploiting their products and services and making themselves better known throughout local and regional territories. The internet spirit of networking is there and ready, stress the authors, so why not push ahead and broadcast one's own merits and achievements? This applies as much to established firms and start‐ups in the industrial democracies as in developing nations.

3 About the authors

Hervé Sérieyx is a former corporate CEO and senior civil servant, now a professor of management and innovation at the University of Paris. Dr Portnoff is a metallurgist with long experience in industrial journalism; at the Paris‐based Futuribles Group, he concentrates on the intellectual revolution and the expanding nanotechnolgies. Their book, preoccupied with the beneficial – and profitable – intelligence revolution's applications, is a refreshing spur to applying foresight to the innovation processes. Tel: 331‐4773‐0243.

A About the reviewer

Jacques Richardson, formerly associate publisher of the French journal La Recherche, is on foresight's editorial board. Jacques Richardson can be contacted at:

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