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Bob Jacobson – Entrepreneur in Residence (Oct-Dec 2009)

Robert (Bob) Jacobson, is MEDEA’s entrepreneur-in-residence, Oct-Dec 2009. In this post, Bob answers a few questions about who he is and what he wants to do at MEDEA.

Who are you?
Professionally, I’m an independent consultant and scholar. I’m interested in innovation and creativity as the outcomes of personal and social processes, in human experience and how we attempt its design (for others and for ourselves), and in how we can apply this knowledge for the betterment of humans and other species. I live in Tucson, Arizona, with my partner, a former ballet dancer and fashion model, now an independent art curator. From my home office I have an inspiring view of the mountains and desert. However, I grew up in a California beachtown that I consider my home.

Growing up in Southern California, the home of movies and the American broadcasting industry, I was like others of my age and geography in the media spotlight for decades: Mouseketeers, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, the surf scene, the youth revolution, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the information age, etc., etc. It’s a unique experience to be so mediated. (I visited Disneyland 22 times by the time I was 16 years of age.) My favorite sport is bodysurfing.

What’s your professional background?
Over the years I’ve been a grassroots media activist, advertising copywriter and creative director, principal policy analyst for the California Legislature, and a startup CEO several times over. I’m especially proud of the five years I spent as an officer and program director for in Silicon Valley’s (and the world’s) largest nonprofit entrepreneurs organization. Politically, I’m involved in modern American progressive politics. I worked as a volunteer developing technology infrastructure for the Howard Dean and Barack Obama presidential campaigns.

Currently, I’m a senior innovation management consultant, futurist, and strategic planner with Gemba Innovation A/S, in Vedbæk, Denmark; and with my own company, Bluefire Consulting. I earned my Ph.D. in planning theory at UCLA’s terrific Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Planning at the peak of its intellectual life. (It’s since been reorganized out of existence.) I have a master’s degree in TV from UCLA’s film school and a master’s in communications-industry management from the USC Annenberg School of Communications. I was fortunate to spend a year in Scandinavia as a Fulbright Scholar, working up a study of how then-new cellular telephony was affecting transborder communities in the Nordic Arctic Circle. Umeå and Tromsø are great for those who haven’t been.

What do you do at MEDEA?
Initially, I came prepared to assist the organizations that were to be awarded MEDEA funding to establish social infrastructure to support their enterprises – social networks, relationships with sources of knowledge, business intelligence, and additional funding, and things like that. But the awards have not yet been made. Once they are, that will be an important task.

In the meantime, I turned my attention to creating events that help us to define MEDEA for our purposes and in the eyes of the world. For example, this November we are having a five-lecture series on innovation, technology, and urbanism pertinent to Malmö’s situation (and the situation of every developing city): “Malmö Transformations” featuring four of my colleagues, each a top expert in his field, and me.

Later on, we’ll have a day-long workshop on innovation and service design on Gemba’s work for the DESINOVA project, sponsored by the Danish Economic Development Agency and Chamber of Commerce. I’ll be giving a couple of lectures myself on my positions regarding innovations. And of course, I hope to take in the flavor of the historic UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, in December.

What are your impressions of Malmö?
I’m no stranger to Malmö. My partner and I first visited in 2007 while I was looking for a job in Denmark. We fell in love with Malmö immediately. Its just the right size – big enough to sustain a vibrant cultural and social life, small enough to find one’s way around and become involved – and of course, the presence of the university (and not just any university, but one that’s experimental and alive) makes a positive difference in the energy level. The debate over the city’s future is fascinating to me. Malmö is a case study in contending, but potentially complementary, points of view regarding the development and character of a place. As an American, I’m used to diversity, so for me the presence of immigrants is a plus.

Impressions…. In Spring 2008, I rented a house in Furulund, near Kävlinge, surrounded by forests and fields, with bicycle paths to the sea. It was a delight watching spring turn into summer. During Valborg, the entire riverbank was lit by bonfires! Just before we returned to the USA, my partner and I sat in the front row of the beautiful Opera House and thrilled to a performance of Aida, the archetypal “big city” opera. Trelleborg felt Hanseatic, medieval. Hammersand is primitive: standing alone, I watched the sun, a huge red ball, rise from the sea over a deserted beach. Wallandar is filmed in Ystad. Oh yes, Copenhagen is close, too.