The Moral Molecule

Neuroscience and economic behavior

Mexico Rising

How to crowd-source innovation

I recently spoke at the Ciudad de Ideas conference in Puebla, Mexico. This conference has been called the TED of Mexico. It featured both Mexican and international speakers on the forefront of the newest ideas in technology, science, and the arts. The conference's impresario, Dr. Andres Roemer, is a force of nature, seeding Mexico with the newest information.

Having not been in Mexico in almost a decade, I was impressed by the positive changes in incomes and government services. But, growth has not erased the misdistribution of income. There are still nearly 50 million Mexicans living in poverty. After several days in Puebla I discovered one reason why economic growth was slow to reach the poorest in Mexico: they are still using a mid-twentieth century management model.

Following Mexican the tradition of hospitality, visitors like myself were treated like royalty. A volunteer was assigned to be at my side at all times, meeting me at the airport in Mexico City to open a special Customs line so I wouldn't wait, arranging a car anytime I'd like so I could tour colonial Puebla, and providing me with the day's schedule. When I returned to my hotel room each night, a large pile of gifts were on the end of my bed for me to take home.

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What I realized was missing, though, was the ability to make my own decisions. The time of my wakeup call was chosen for me. Speakers had a special room to eat in and a special place to sit during the conference. This is a microcosm of the inefficiency of the Mexican system. When decisions are made from the top, there is a wonderful sense of being cared for. But, what is missing is the rich information that comes from those on the bottom.

Ciudad de Ideas is trying to lead this change by opening its conference to 3,600 people, many of them young, rather than the much smaller and grayer crowd at TED. When the young are empowered with information, they can change the world. As long as the established hierarchy doesn't hold them back. Viva el cambio! Viva Mexico!

 

 

 

 

Paul J. Zak is a neuroeconomist at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, CA.  His book The Moral Molecule will be published in 2012.

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