Decide Today What Tomorrow Should Be
Convoco, the platform for contemporary thinkers created by Dr Corinne Flick, convenes together some of the most brilliant minds in business, academe and the arts. Here she talks to us about the social impact of these debates, of the power of ‘not-doing’, and the significance of the color pink.
Ivonne Fehn: Dr Flick, you regularly call together leading thinkers and doers from various disciplines at your Convoco Foundation for lectures and discussion forums. What’s the idea behind this?
Dr. Corinne Flick: Convoco originated in the wish to exchange ideas about topics that affect us all, and in the desire to take responsibility for our world. As a lawyer, I particularly want to discuss subjects that have implications for the law. This is Convoco’s bedrock—each topic is in some sense related to constitutional law, what the Germans refer to as “Grundgesetz”: the very Basic Law of the state. Appropriately, our first discussions took place at Herrenchiemsee —where, in 1948, the German constitution was debated, and now a museum of German constitutional history. This is the legal framework that created the Germany we live in today.
IF: Now Convoco is based in Salzburg?
CF: Salzburg was chosen partly for its proximity to Herrenchiemsee, after Convoco outgrew the museum. I am delighted to be there, as the city has good transport connections and is simply a very beautiful place. The character of the location comes from the uniqueness of its natural setting and quality of its cultural life. And the Salzburg Festivals also contribute to this.
IF: What happens at Convoco meetings?
CF: Our motto is Convoco for a better understanding. It’s all about communication, exchange, and thinking. Thinking well and communicating deeply require engagement. At the start, it was perhaps the biggest challenge for me to convince people to take the time to become involved. We all have busy schedules. Thinking requires space—and that is something we have to create in today’s world first of all. This is something that we have achieved.
IF: Who was part of the inner circle from the start?
CF: Paul Kirchhof and Roland Berger. They also both personify the two areas of this interdisciplinary think-tank that bring together the academic and practical fields. With his background as a Justice of the German Federal Constitutional Court, Paul Kirchhof stands for the Basic Law and the freedom it protects. And Roland Berger, one of our leading economic minds, has an unrivalled knowledge of how the economy and business operate as a result of his work as the doyen of Europe’s consultants.
IF: What kind of people take part?
CF: Alongside our regular core group, a series of experts attend every year, especially for the topic in hand. This is important for continuity, on the one hand, and on the other it ensures new, inspiring thinking. Philosophers, theologians, and historians take part — and last year we even had a geneticist. The people who participate in the Convoco debates are outstanding individuals. For example, Wolfgang Schön is one of the leading experts in European tax law and a Director at the Max Planck Institute. Or there’s Jörg Rocholl, President of the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin.
IF: Do we hear too little from our best thinkers today?
CF: Yes, I think so. The academic sphere is precisely where we can find brilliant minds. I think it’s important that we get in touch with them and their ideas. We would live in a better society if we considered their thoughts more, and, where appropriate, translated them into our areas of concern.
IF: Because thinking should lead to action?
CF: This is precisely Convoco’s impact—that every individual who listens and takes part can be inspired and can select from these ideas what is appropriate to their own life. This is why the public and the audience are essential. After every Forum or lecture I receive emails saying “Actually I met so-and-so” and the encounter prompted me to think anew about a particular problem, or “This inspired me to do that.” Such responses show me that Convoco is clearly making an impact. In addition, there are the Convoco Editions books—seven already—which publish the proceedings of our Forums.
IF: Do Convoco’s annual topics reflect social developments?
CF: Up to now, we’ve managed to find topics that were not yet being generally discussed—we have always been a year or two ahead of fashion! For example, in 2011 we looked at the question of “Who Owns the World’s Knowledge?” Convoco often chooses what may seem at first sight to be abstract topics, but which prompt participants to reconsider major questions of the day from first principles. This level is important in bringing together, and finding connections between, speakers from a very wide variety of disciplines. Philosophers, historians, sociologists, but also economists, lawyers, and medics should all be able to comment on and engage with the Forum’s chosen theme. At the same time, we deliberately avoid trying to create a media debate. The topics are consciously chosen to be different, and this guarantees our independence. This is also part of Convoco’s contribution.
IF: Your topic this year is “Power and its Paradoxes: Who’s Really in Charge in a Globalized World?” What can your guests expect?
CF: In “Power and its Paradoxes” we are looking at the position of decision-makers today, and whether they are still really free in the making of their decisions. In our complex world we are dependent on information and opinions, and thus dependent on those who provide that information and those opinions. So a key aspect of the Forum will be the role of advice. As in 2013, when we looked at “Dealing with Downturns,” it’s thinking through the options that is a central message. A decision-maker can only decide if there are real alternatives for action.
IF: These are big topics that concern our political and economic world. What resonance do they have in your own everyday life?
CF: The topic of strategy has changed a lot in my own life. Previously, I had not realized how important it is to have a strategy when you begin a project—regardless of whether it is a personal, economic, or political task. Last year’s topic, too, is important in our complex world: it was about the power of “not-doing” — about how a conscious decision to refrain from action or involvement may be a far better choice than its opposite. By following Herman Melville’s famous character Bartleby, and saying simply “I would prefer not to,” we can improve our quality of life. By making conscious not-doing a focus of society, power structures can be interrogated and forced to act more wisely.
IF: Who will be attending the Convoco Forum this year?
CF: Many of my frequent participants will be there, such as Kai Konrad, one of the Max Planck Institute’s great experts on public finance; Christoph Paulus, an authority on defaulting states; and Rudolf Mellinghoff, the outstanding President of the Federal Finance Court of Germany. Wolfgang Ischinger, former Ambassador to London and Chairman of the Munich Security Conference, brings political and diplomatic expertise to the discussion table, alongside Peter M. Huber, a Justice of the German Federal Constitutional Court. Among the new participants, there will be Clemens Fuest from the Centre for European Economic Research.
IF: Convoco has been in existence for eleven years. How has it changed?
CF: Convoco has been growing slowly but continually, and over the course of time it has created an exciting structure of interested parties who form a social and intellectual network with each other. Our audience consists of young and old, women and men, and all kinds of professionals, academics and businesspeople, lawyers, doctors, artists, and media people—the entire social spectrum. Convocare means to “call together”—at the moment I am the one calling people together and I’m pleased to do it with all my heart.
IF: You have chosen pink as Convoco’s color. How does that fit with a serious think-tank?
CF: It’s actually Shocking Pink! Because of the high-level quality of our topics and discussions I am very much concerned to demonstrate that we are not operating in an ivory tower, and that thinking is part of our everyday life. It is sparkling, enriching, and joyful.
IF: How does Convoco tackle the complexity of the world we live in today?
CF: Complexity is something we must break down by looking at its components, by examining fundamental ideas and principles. That’s what Convoco does.
IF: How important is law for the way we live together?
CF: Every society is only as good as its legal system. Corruption means death for any society, for example. As the ultimate point of reference, the law is crucial. We should not underestimate it.
IF: Non-lawyers might not be aware of this.
CF: Sometimes even lawyers are not very aware of this. Law always sounds like legislation or having to behave in a certain way, the idea of punishment is always in the background. But we should look at it in another way: our life could not function without the law. In 2012 we discussed “Collective Law-Breaking—A Threat to Liberty.” Just to take one example: if we all start to download material from the Internet with no concern for copyright, things will soon get out of hand. The Internet brings us enormous advantages and opportunities, but there is a negative side resulting from the fact that the digital world has no, or very few, legal regulations.
IF: Is thinking itself a topic for Convoco?
CF: We might ask ourselves whether our patterns of thought today are already keeping pace with technological and social developments.
IF: Because models of thought change over time?
CF: They should do. Looking at the digital world, I don’t think that as a society we fully understand what the implications are. Or what developments confront us now, and which ones are already on the way to confronting us. I find what is happening exciting; and we cannot escape it. I just want to say: “Listen! Please think! Look closely! And decide today what tomorrow should be—how we want it to be.”