Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Brain Gain with John G. Jung

It’s a bright, sunny Tuesday in Ottawa’s Centretown.  As I enter the Christ Church Cathedral I can smell the damp, cool air and hear the light-coloured maple floorboards creak under my step.  I am ushered into a small room filled with five rows of royal blue chairs.  They face a small stage containing two directors’ chairs, and a large baby blue sign with the words “Think” written in typewriter font and an inkblot splashed over the letters i,n,k. 


As I settle into my seat in the centre of the room for a lunchtime discussion John G. Jung, the author and speaker, and Anil Somayaji, host and Carleton University professor, take their seats in the previously mentioned directors’ chairs.  After a brief introduction from Somayaji, Jung launches into what his book, Brain Gain, is all about; intelligent communities and how they can be created.


His ideas are simple, but powerful.  To create an intelligent community you need a city that is not just efficient, but also one people want to live in.   As Jung describes it  “a community with a soul.”  Building a smart city, one with technology to monitor efficiency and harvest big data, is not the answer but merely the first step.  According to Jung, creating these intelligent communities comes down to developing talent, keeping that talent in the community, and creating good governance, which will attract investors and more talent. 


These concepts are fascinating for their strength, but also for their wide reaching application.  Intelligent communities can be found in urban centres, like Toronto, or tiny villages, like Pirai, Brazil.  The size and location of the community doesn’t matter, it’s the innovation and creativity of the people that make these communities intelligent.


Jung’s passion for this concept can be easily spotted in his excited tone and endless knowledge on the topic, but also through his actions.  He is the chairman and co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, an organization that shares the success stories of intelligent communities around the world to help others adapt to, and succeed in, the “broadband economy.”


As Somayaji probes Jung with questions clarifying jargon, such as the difference between intelligent and smart communities, and his experiences, the brilliance of his work begins to unfold. 


Jung casually peppers into the conversation the cities he has travelled to recently  Taipei, Taiwan – and ones he plans to head to in the coming weeks – Queensland, Australia  –  demonstrating how far reaching these conceptions are. 


Jung discusses how many of these intelligent communities emerged through crisis rather than cutting-edge innovation.  For example, RIM in Waterloo and Nokia in Oulu are communities whose economic livelihood depended on companies.  From their downfall emerged innovation, not disaster, as the talent that was once consumed by these organizations was released into their communities, creating growth.


As sunlight pours in over the collection of potted plants that line the windowsill above Jung’s head he begins to wind down his talk.  Somayaji opens up the floor to questions and immediately the audience comes alive, eager to get Jung’s take on Ottawa’s place in this innovative concept.  From sassy inquiries about the difficulty of dealing with government bureaucracy to heartfelt questions regarding Ottawa’s future developments, it was clear Jung had us all engaged.  In fact, at one point Somayaji had to get firm with one lady, whose excitement to hear Jung’s opinion on the future construction of the Ottawa library’s central branch was threatening to capitalize all of Jung’s time for questions.


Upon leaving the smells and sounds of the church, I stepped into the sun soaked street with a new appreciation for how far reaching and all encompassing the technology we rely on is.  While there are some communities that are struggling under this immense pressure, it is inspiring to see there are people like John G. Jung who are helping communities adapt and thrive on a global scale.