Lifelong Learning

Ben Verwaayen has been the CEO of French telecom multinational Alcatel-Lucent since September 2008. Before that, he was CEO of British Telecom and director of the former state-owned company KPN. The setting is familiar yet unusual. The three of us, Ben (59) (grandfather), Benjamin (7) (grandson), and yours truly (33) (Benjamin’s father) are sitting on the waterfront outside the Amstel Hotel.

Ben : “Benjamin, sit down and listen to your father.”
Martijn: “You need to join in. It’s about you too.”
Benjamin: “Is this a telephone?”
Ben: “No, it’s a recorder.”
Benjamin shouts into it: “HELLLLLLOOOOOOOO!!”
Ben and Martijn almost in unison: “Shut up and listen…”
Martijn asks Benjamin: “You’ll be working in about fifteen years. What do you see yourself doing? Do you want to start your own business? Or do you want to work for a big company just like grandpa?
Benjamin shouts: “I have no idea what you’re talking about!!”
Martijn: “Okay, obviously the wrong question.”
Ben takes over: “What do like to do?”
Benjamin: “I like LEGO.”
Ben: “Oh, you enjoy making things? With friends or by yourself?”
Benjamin: “It’s more fun with friends. I like building things together.”
Ben: “That’s interesting. What about at school; do you work together a lot there? Do you work with computers much? How did you learn to do that?”
Benjamin: “We don’t get to work together much there. I have to do things on my own. I don’t really like that we’re not allowed to do a lot in pairs there. We have a computer in the classroom, but no Internet… I learned to use the computer at home, playing computer games with my mom.”

Ben : “Children have a lot of access to creativity, both online and offline. Working and learning with computers is hugely important; the possibilities are endless. Being able to work independently is an advantage, doing and discovering things yourself, but the power of working together – using each other’s potential and sparking each other’s creativity – becomes more and more important if we want to improve our position in the world, and be able to take on the competition in the international employment market. Education should focus more on the future, on increasing access to technology, and should facilitate working together with children from different cultures. They’re important lessons to prepare for what they’ll encounter in businesses and in society. When I walked into a playground in Paris with Benjamin last week, he started speaking English with the French boys there right away. I think kids today do that far more easily; it’s more normal for them to speak another language. For the French children too; in my generation it was far more unusual to hear English spoken in France. The new generation is less afraid of the differences between cultures. :)”


Martijn : “So Benjamin and his generation will be more global citizens?”
Ben: “Yes, and it’s up to my generation and yours to prepare them as well as possible, without leaving anyone behind. Competition on the employment market is continuing to increase, but that presents more opportunities too. I’m optimistic. People in their 30s and 40s are doing well. I see a lot of business acumen, a lot of people working for themselves, daring to be different to their parents, and showing their own leadership. That’s a good sign. Continuing to learn is essential, and education and management development are very important. You come to a point where you know that “interesting facts” aren’t enough. It’s not just about knowledge, but also about how you relate that knowledge to others. Besides that I keep getting as much as possible out of the content, I ask questions and use my ears! M

Martijn
: “So how do you keep learning?”
Ben: “I’m a member of the Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum, where I share my experiences and learn from the experiences of others. I talk to leaders about themes that affect us all. I learn about the effects that choices have on society, both locally and globally. The strengths of the forum are the dialogue, the available knowledge and the willingness of forum members to make a contribution.”

Benjamin : “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT!”

Martijn van Haagen , Program Director (m.vanhaagen@debaak.nl )


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