This week I visited Warsaw for the first time in five years. I came away very impressed but with perhaps just a little concern for the distant future.
This is clearly a hard work, striving culture. Growth is everywhere. The customer service ethic is good. Buildings are going up, new roads are being built. Most people think of Germany as the success story of European growth, but the German media itself is ready to praise “the miracle nextdoor”. My conversations with senior IT and business people were all positive, engaged and forward looking. None of the cynicism, affluenza, hand wringing or ‘cant do’ sentiments too commonly voiced in the richer nations of old Europe. No fear of Eurocrisis here of course, but not much conversation about its indirect effects either.
I spoke about the hype cycle and we provided copies of the Polish transalation of our book. People were asking insightful questions. There is an eager sense of wanting to know more about technology and management science. We did an evening event in collaboration with the Warsaw-Illinois executive MBA and it was great to talk with its director, Tomasz Ludwicki. He explained how keen his executive students are to absorb and apply American style management research to help improve their businesses in this still evolving Eastern European economy.
Towards the end of my short visit, a Gartner colleague shared perspectives on two aspects of the Polish situation that are currently helping to build the nation, but might create problems later. First – he said that after a century of oppression and communism people want very much to physically own things – cars and houses on a personal level, capital equipment on a business level. This need to privately and directly own things is deeply seated in the nation’ culture. For now I am sure it will drive acquisitiveness and that will help drive growth. But in the longer term I wonder if it will inhibit Poland from developing more advanced services based models of consumption that the Internet makes possible.
Secondly, as we sat in another traffic jam caused by road building – I asked where the money was coming from and how the government could afford to invest. The answer, it turns out, is the EU. As one of the more recent accession countries, Poland receives a lot of development funding from Brussels. The intention behind that part of the grand European project has always been a noble one – for the richer countries to help raise up the others in the hope of a better future for all. For a long time, it looked like it was working well for Portugal, Spain and Greece. But I guess we now all have to reflect on the practical realities and secondary side effects of such beneficence. My colleague mentioned his concerns that some of the money will be hastily spent, not necessarily on the right things and that the economy might not be as strong as it hopes, to stand on its own when the EU money runs out .. as it must do one day.
But for now, things in Poland feel very positive. And that’s a thing to be grateful for. Any oasis of economic growth in Europe is a welcome sight indeed. As the world watches the UEFA Euro 2012 football competition on TV over coming weeks I hope this hard working, high integrity nation enjoys the international attention it deserves.