One day, I read an old Chinese proverb that suggested that those who were worrying about next year should sow wheat, while those who were worrying about the next hundred years should educate people.
Like many popular proverbs, this one had a nugget of wisdom: in a world in constant change, where we cannot know for sure what will happen tomorrow, investing in people, rather than material resources, is the wisest thing we can do. This is because people can change things. Resources, on the other hand, cannot.
To better understand the importance of investing in people, let's leave Asia and move from China to Finland.
For a good part of the twentieth century Finland was one of the poorest countries in Europe, with an economy with little industrialisation, mainly dependent on agriculture. However today, Finland is one of the richest countries in the world, with the best education system in Europe and the highest quality of life.
So much so that in 2010, Newsweek magazine listed Finland as the best country in the world to live in. How was such a radical change possible over such a short time?
The answer is simple: they focused on people.
In an interview published in Monocle magazine, Juha Leppanen, director of the Demos think tank in Helsinki, said that the only solution for a country like theirs [Finland], remote and with a terrible climate, was to focus on people. Here lies the secret of Finland's economic development. They had nothing, and so they invested in their most important asset, people. These same people were then able to transform their country. The example of Finland shows that only people can drive change. Machines become obsolete. Money devalues. Buildings crumble into ruins. However, people can adapt and create value, even where none has existed before.
On the site it is possible to compare different regions of Europe based on fourteen variables: Competition, Cultural Support, Financing, High Growth, Internationalisation, Opportunity Perception, Opportunities for Start-ups, Process Innovation, Product Innovation, Risk Acceptance, Start-up Skills, Technology Absorption, Human Capital, and Networking.
I think this is the core of the economic problems in our country.
How can we create an ecosystem that makes it possible for people to work at their best and realise their potential through work?
Innovation, both in a country and in a company, comes only from people.
Started in 1972 as a record label, over forty years Virgin managed to reinvent itself continuously by entering (and sometimes exiting) a wide range of sectors and markets including: banking, beverages, airlines, rail transport, video games, consumer electronics, financial services, films, the internet and mobile phones, radio, books, car and motorcycle rental, tourism, sport, cosmetics, retail, and space travel.
When a reporter asked Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson to explain his success in three words, the British businessman, without thinking much, replied: "People, people, people". I think any entrepreneur would agree with him.
What would happen if, one day, a machine could think like a human being?
It's a well-founded concern. However, my greatest fear is not that machines will start to think like humans, but that humans will start to think like machines, and then stop thinking altogether.
Our ability (as people) to solve problems, to make decisions in complicated and unpredictable situations, and to draw up development plans, has much more value than purely mechanical skills such as data processing. In the words of the American entrepreneur and computer scientist Marc Andreessen, both as people and as companies, we will have to decide which side we stand on: with people who tell computers what to do, or people who are told by computers what to do.
The people in our company will play a primary role in making this decision.