Joakim is doing his third, and last year as an industrial PhD student at the Centre for Innovation, Research and Competence in the Learning Economy (CIRCLE) at Lund University. As an industrial PhD student his research project is part of his job as a senior policy analyst at the Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Southern Sweden.
His main research interests are cities and complex adaptive systems. He’s trying to study how bottom-up, self-organizing and "chaotic" patterns of economic and social interactions affect things like productivity, entrepreneurship and innovation in cities.
His ambition is to build a better understanding of how, but also why, people and firms come together and co-locate in growing cities.
What is currently on your research agenda?
The smallest common denominator in my research right now is within-city analysis. I’m studying how socioeconomic activities are organised within cities. I’m also working on a few projects on the digital shift in the economy. Apart from that, I am trying to learn some new cool research methods. For example, what could we learn by mapping out networks of how people move between places within a metropolitan region? And how could we use data from Google Maps?
Beside my own research I’m involved in several collaborations with others researchers, which helps boosting creativity in my own research and hopefully make me a better thinker.
What drives you to be a researcher?
I am addicted to puzzle or problem-solving. I simply love figuring out patterns and macro-connections in the way people, firms and society works. When I see headlines or book titles saying that something is revolutionary, never seen before or disruptive, I tend to think that most of the time, it depends on perspective.
For example, the Internet is disruptive, for sure, if you only use the world as it looked just before the spread of internet connections as a reference point, with music being sold on CD:s for instance. If however, you focus on how communication has developed over time, you could argue that every technological step has been about removing communication or transaction costs. With the telegraph and the phone, you reduced the time it took to communicate a message. With radio and television, the potential audience was increased significantly both in size and reach. With cassette tapes, CD:s and hard drives, the amount of information that could be stored grew while the physical storage space became smaller. With every one of these steps, the amount of information that could be communicated and the reach of that communication grew while its costs shrunk. From this point of view, maybe digitalisation should not have come as a surprise after all.
It is these kinds of macro connections across trends, sectors, places and time, that intrigue me the most. Rather than focusing on one hype curve at a time, I want to find the pattern between different hypes.
Why did you become a researcher?
Unlike many other PhD students in social sciences, I’ve worked for six years before pursuing a PhD. My reason for becoming a researcher is that I wanted to learn a bunch of new things, and I wanted to become better at thinking about things from different angles. It’s not that researchers are necessarily smarter, or that you have to be in academia to be a thinker (you really don’t). But having one foot in each world – academia and business – is proving to be extremely stimulating. Every time I´m working on my research, my colleagues force me to question things I take for granted, and every time I´m outside academia my other colleagues force me to formulate my research in a way that makes real-world sense.
What’s the best part of being a researcher?
The best part about being a researcher is the opportunity to spend at least as much time on the problem as on its solution. In my previous career experience, the problem has always been fairly set when I started working with it and there has always been a hard (short) deadline on coming up with a solution. In academic research, you can afford the luxury of spending an entire week on just formulating the problem or question you are going to attempt to answer. The thing is, once you done that, you often already know a lot about what the solution has to look like. I am convinced that formulating the problem is at least as important as solving it, and research is an excellent way of training that ability.
What was your latest research publication about?
My latest publication is a case study on The Pirate Bay and something called evasive entrepreneurship.
The Pirate Bay is one Sweden's greatest innovations, and it is also an excellent example of entrepreneurship that thrives in the regulatory gaps that occur when new technologies challenge old institutions (i.e. evasive entrepreneurship). In much the same way, Uber challenges our understanding of the transport sector and Airbnb challenges our idea of how the hospitality sector works. We need a better understanding of this type of entrepreneurship and policymakers need better tools to address the issues that come with it, or they will risk hampering entrepreneurship all together.
Where do you see your research five years from now?
Dreaming big, I´d say that I have a research lab dedicated to collecting new types of (real-time) data on cities and finding new ways of analysing it and turning it into policy tools.