illustration Erika Lockne, copyright Erika Lockne and Cubby’s Going Home
It started with an uneasy feeling that real innovation wasn’t happening, We were working on establishing the Urban ICT Arena in Stockholm. The Arena is an open testbed for Smart City technology and Smart City business models, and for Internet of Things technology in general. After several years on the operational management committee it was getting obvious that no one anywhere in the world seemed to have a clue about what Internet of Things and Smart Cities could actually do for humanity.
Change the future with minimal effort?
“How do we change this?” was the question. Or more accurate: “How do we change this with minimal effort?” The minimal effort part of the question was critical for two reasons. First, there was a severe shortage on resources. Second, changing the future is hard, really hard. Unless you can find a situation where everything is in place and just needs a small nudge to get going. Then it’s easy.
Analysing the situation
After analyzing the situation we concluded that Stockholm as a city had all the things needed in place. The City administration and the surrounding municipalities were clearly interested in the next level of innovation. The workforce in Stockholm is exceptional and all the competence needed is available in abundance. Stockholm also has a vibrant startup scene with a track record of generating several unicorn companies. And lots of companies, big and small, new and old, were doing lots of things within the area of Internet of Things and Smart Cities. Just not anything really interesting. Final, the population is very tech savvy and will embrace any useful new technology fast.
Also we had built up Urban ICT Arena to a level where we had direct access to lots of influencers inside relevant organizations. Which meant we had a platform we could use as a force multiplier.
Further investigations showed that only a certain group of technologists had any understanding of what Internet of Things technology could do. But they didn’t have any useful visions to work with. The situation was similar within Smart Cities. Business developers were struggling to get beyond the ideas that cities needed to invest in network infrastructure and could save some money in their technical administration. Mainly by digitalizing and centralizing city systems management. Things a city like Stockholm did decades ago.
Changing perception with a better name
Stockholm is full of idea-people who can take almost any new research or invention and turn it into useful products and services. But these people worked on something else and didn’t see the relevance in neither Internet of Things nor Smart Cities. Deep interviews we did clearly demonstrated that “Internet” was seen as a 20 year old buzzword for a revolution already happened. And “Smart” was seen as a buzzword from the 1980th representing outdated fashion. So we needed a new name, a new buzzword. And we would be competing with attention from buzzwords like “sustainable”, “food tech”, “social entrepreneur”, now hot.
Asking ourselves questions: “What is a city full with these technologies?”, “What is the end goal?”, “How is the citizen experience?” We eventually came up with a list of names that looked like “automatic city” “magical city” and none of these worked. “Automatic” was a buzzword older than 70 years and “magical” would be seen as either fantasy or new age. But smashing them together into “automagic” created a completely new name with potential.
Use art to create meaning
Words, names, brands and buzzwords don’t just take off by themselves and get used. First you must fill them with meaning, so that the word represents something attractive. And we wanted to do this in a way that communicated with the most creative, knowledgeable and intelligent idea-people out there. There is only one way to do this fast and efficiently, you create art. Art of the type we wanted would function as a seed for divergent creative idea work done by a manifold of people. The simplest art form to create such art is the art of manifesto writing.
Remembering that Rasmus and Erika had written something similar, years ago, Rasmus found a short text from 2002 in the SLAAK company server archive. The topic was “Magic as a useful metaphor for designing technology.” The text was basically the manifesto we wanted. It mostly needed two things, a change of title and a list of experiences representing the idea of the Automagic City.
By actually using magic as a metaphor for coming up with ideas for the list we soon had more on the list than we needed. Also proving that the manifesto was a useful tool for idea generation.
Planting the seed of the Automagic City
We published the Automagic City Manifesto on Urban ICT Arenas website on 2 December 2017. A year later we can see how it is constantly transforming more and more people’s thinking about the next IT revolution about to happen.