Written by Alex McKeen | Published by the MetroNews

March 01, 2018

'Stop Wasting Genius' Say Thinkers Van Jones, Anne-Marie Slaughter in Vancouver

Van Jones and Anne Marie Slaughter were the keynote speakers of Simon Fraser University's Brave New Work Summit. They spoke Wednesday at the Queen Elizabeth theatre.

Workplaces of the future will have to be “anti-stupid,” a near-full audience heard Wednesday evening in Vancouver. And they need to stop wasting massive amounts of talent.

American commentators Van Jones and Anne-Marie Slaughter came together for a keynote talk at this week's Brave New Work Summit, where they offered their takes on the crucial (but often foreboding) question: what needs to change so we can have quality careers in the future?

And both thinkers turned their their attention to the ongoing housing crisis in Vancouver, addressing what cities like Vancouver and San Francisco — both struggling with housing affordability — should do to make sure they remain viable places to live for future generations.

Slaughter referred to Vancouver’s history of strong union-led labour movements, and suggested something different but of a similar scale was needed for the modern world in order to achieve employment stability, given the prominence of temporary and “gig” jobs today.

Beyond that, Jones said bright minds should be able to come together in the city to make housing options available to the workforce, including those who give cities character.

“You gotta have artists and weirdos to be able to stay in the city,” he said.

Jones, well-known for his left-wing political commentary in the U.S. and his social justice advocacy, painted a picture of an American economy he said is currently ill-equipped to harness the talent it needs.

Time, he said, is rushing toward us as technology constantly updates and changes the ways we work and interact with one another. The skills needed to tackle the future therefore, rest in people’s ability to “pivot,” problem-solve, and “hack” society’s problems.

The trouble, he said, is that the economy only rewards a small portion of the population with those skills. Black and other racialized people, poor people, and prisoners who learn to hack common problems behind bars, haven’t been able to break into the lucrative Silicon Valley model of success anywhere near the level white people have.

Think about the invention of hip-hop, Jones argued — it emerged from inner-city youth finding ways to make music without having access to instruments. Or prisoners who fashion lighters out of the meagre materials available to them.

“That genius,” Jones said, “is not being accessed by the technological elite. We’ve got to stop wasting genius.”

A key component of successful workplaces of the future, Jones argued, will be bringing together people who think differently — only “don’t call it diversity, call it anti-stupid,” Jones said.

Meanwhile, Slaughter emphasized the need to re-think the kind of work that's seen as valuable to society. For example, employment such as childcare and elder care, has long gone under-valued and unpaid, something she argued needs to change.

This article was originally published on the MetroNews on March 01, 2018.