Archive for February, 2011

What Technology Wants

February 28th, 2011

images12It’s rare that a book so enhances your world-view that you think the author has taken up residence in your head.  Henceforth What Technology Wants shall be known as my new playbook for understanding technology.  It’s a must read for innovation junkies trying to sort the infinite possibilities of the 21stcentury.  Many have tried to help us understand the meaning of technology.  Few get below the buzzwords.

What Technology Wants captures the essence of our technological revolution and provides a lens to understand its origins. It provides a unique view from technology’s perspective shedding light on what technology wants and where it can take us.  It’s a call to action reminding us of the opportunity and responsibility to remake our world in a way that deeply honors technologic potential around us. I expected the book to be great. Kevin Kelly has been an innovation hero of mine dating back to his days as the founding editor of WIRED. Every story during Kevin’s tenure at the magazine was a voice from the future that seemed to be speaking directly to me.  It was a thrill to spend an entire day with Kevin when he came to the Business Innovation Factory recently to discuss What Technology Wants.  Talk about being a kid in a candy store.  My head is still spinning.

Kevin Kelly’s visit and book discussion stretched my thinking in both comfortable and uncomfortable ways.  Let’s start with the comfortable leap.  Kelly clearly asserts that humans are the evolutionary conduit connecting the cosmos, bios, and technos.  He paints a compelling narrative arc asserting that the concentric creation stories of the universe, life, and the man-made world all share the same inexorable evolutionary path.  I now know what Stephen Johnson meant by taking a long zoom view. Kelly traces the four billion year history of life through transitions marked by ever-increasing complexity of information flows. From molecules to single-cell organisms to language based societies to writing and printing to agriculture to scientific method, to mass production to ubiquitous global communication.  It’s all one grand evolutionary arc and we are center stage. Read more

Will the Sun Shine Bright on Kentucky Innovation?

February 11th, 2011

images-28In my latest HBR column I share observations from my recent whirlwind trip to Kentucky to explore innovation and entrepreneurship in the Bluegrass Region.

My friend, Eric Patrick Marr, a passionate social entrepreneur, has been working to promote entrepreneurship in the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky. At his invitation, I went this week to the state’s two largest cities, Lexington and Louisville, to talk with local entrepreneurs and community leaders about what it takes to spur more innovation and entrepreneurship in a region.

It’s a goal that nearly every locale seems to have these days, but here there’s a particular sense of urgency given the recent election of new mayors in both towns. Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer are both first-time office holders coming to public service directly from successful private sector business careers. Both new mayors ran and won on economic development platforms. Like me, they believe it’s vital to think about the challenge of fostering entrepreneurship and innovation at the level of the city — and that their cities have the potential to lead the way by becoming innovation hotspots.

Each has a deep and rich economic heritage to draw on — and to overcome — in that quest. Louisville’s economic legacy is that of a classic industrial-era city; Lexington, only 75 miles north, has a predominantly agrarian heritage, centered on the region’s many beautiful and expansive horse farms. In both cities, even as people take pride in the past, some worry that it hasn’t equipped them to build new engines of regional prosperity and job creation. It’s a concern I see in cities in every mature economy that once lived in high-growth prosperity but no longer do. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz,they yearn to get back to it, but think it might take something magical, the economic equivalent of ruby red slipper, to effect the change.

Continue reading my HBR column here.

Cradle of Self-Organization

February 1st, 2011

images-13_largeIt’s hard to not be moved by the cri de coeur (cry of the heart) of the Egyptian people. A cry for freedom so loud the borders of Egypt can’t contain it. I don’t think I’m being hyperbolic in saying we are witness to the rise of a new world order. An era defined by entrenched public and private sector institutions is giving way, right before our eyes, to a new era defined by self-organization. While we have sensed the trend for a while the clarity and immediacy of the tangible quest for freedom in Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square is riveting and marks a global inflection point. There is no turning back. Not in Egypt and not anywhere in the world. Self-organized purposeful networks enabled by social media will not be stopped. Fasten your seat belts.

Clay Shirky had it right when he warned us, Here Comes Everybody. An era defined by self-organization is an equal opportunity disrupter. No institution will be unaffected. Any government not reflecting the will of the people isn’t sustainable. Equally unsustainable are education systems not reflecting the will of the student, health care systems not reflecting the will of the patient, corporations not reflecting the will of the consumer, and economies not reflecting the will of the entrepreneur. Our social systems and institutions need transformation not tweaks. Clay Christensen taught us that institutions do not disrupt themselves. Institutions will not lead the inevitable 21st century transformation, self-organized groups of committed and passionate people, like the crowds in Tahrir Square, will. Read more