Future and the Summit

I was really lucky to be able to attend the Australian Davos Connection’s Future Summit 2009 in Melbourne earlier this week.

When I walked into the venue it was a bit intimidating, so many serious looking people in suits. And from the attendee list I knew that many of them were CEOs, senior Public Servants, politicians, senior Defence personnel, journalists and writers. It was a pretty impressive crowd.

Then I started to get curious about these people, who were they, why were they here, why did they think that this conference was important? So I grabbed the camera and started to ask people those three questions on video.

The videos are gradually being uploaded onto YouTube.  Here’s one from Tony Press, Director of the Australian Antarctic Division, talking about climate change:

It was inspiring to hear these stories and to know that people really do care about creating a better future. The big question that arose for me is:

What can I do today that will make tomorrow better?

Perception, relationships & dialogue

~ There have been some really interesting responses from a variety of people regarding my involvement with CeBIT this year. I’m finding it quite fascinating, and have even been called a “cool kid” which, for someone who’s always been the quintessential library dwelling nerd, is fun to hear.

“If you never change your mind, why have one?”
— Edward de Bono

Here are some things that inform my thinking and writing …

  • This is a personal blog, I’m not a journalist and I comment on things that interest me, there is no real overarching theme.
  • I’m always willing to critique things (companies, people, policies) that  I don’t like or with which I disagree. Some folks like to call this ‘opinionated‘.
  • If the evidence changes, new evidence is brought to light, or I’m just plain wrong then I’m willing to change my position.
  • Very rarely do I seek to close down the dialogue between myself and others – even if we disagree.  Although sometimes we have to simply agree to disagree.
  • My opinions are merely opinions. Sometimes they are based on facts, sometimes they are based on hearsay, and sometimes (because I’m human) they’re based on prejudice. When possible prejudice on my part is brought to my attention I listen and often (but not always) change my opinion.
  • I value dialogue over monologue because without it relationships cannot grow. Collaboration, innovation and creation are all possible due to the interconnection of ideas and people.  Debate, dialogue and some kind of dialectical process drive them.  Shutting down possibilities by refusing dialogue means shutting down potential opportunities.
  • From time to time I argue just for the fun of it, and have been known to argue for points of view with which I disagree. Arguing from an opposing viewpoint can be a useful way of understanding issues.
  • I don’t waste energy on hating anyone or anything.  Although some people or things may really annoy me.
  • Sometimes I enjoy subverting hierarchy & deconstructing traditional institutions – it’s all in good fun & not intended for evil (keep any eye out for some flash mobs or similar). This is because I believe that humour can often be a force for revelations of truth about what we do and the need for change. It is also why LOLcats rule.
  • All of the above makes complete sense given my MBTI type = ENTP 😉

Thoughts on innovation & revolution

“Innovation always comes unexpectedly & from the periphery.” – Source: Me

Once I see an innovation it always seems obvious – except that it was not obvious until I saw it. The iPhone is a great example of this – sure it is currently less than 5% of handsets on the market, but it has radically shifted the entire concept of what a mobile actually is and does. All the other mobile phone manufacturers were going on their merry way, consistently  improving their products, when Apple suddenly changed the game entirely. And now the other manufacturers are rapidly shifting to the new ground of competition as set by Apple.

Another striking thing about innovation is that often it is not based on completely new technology. Rather it is often older technology being used in different ways or being combined with some new technology. Web 2.0 is a great example of this phenomenon. The technology stack that enables web 2.0 is old, it’s been around for years. The novelty is how it has been adapted and implemented to create new kinds of applications that democratise technology. Thus the key innovation in web 2.0 is making it easy for ordinary people to create online content without requiring them to become technically competent beyond basic computer usage.

It is this democratisation of technology that is one of the most interesting innovations of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.  In the past creation of software artifacts required high levels of skill and knowledge.  Now an office worker or school child with limited technical skills can create a web site or blog, add some software widgets, create some video content and have it live on the web in less than an hour.  They can also combine existing content from a variety of sources and republish it as co-creators, .e.g mashups.  They can now take the power of hypertext and use its principles to co-create content and potentially divert the original content away from the intent of its creators.  We are increasingly seeing this happen with brands (the famous Diet Coke & Mentos meme on YouTube is a good example).

This is a revolutionary change that is as important as the ability to print books and share them with literate audiences during the Reformation.  We are only seeing the beginning of this revolution and it opens up a myriad of possibilities for both good and ill.

The coming integration of IT and biotechnology …

I just saw Susan Greenfield – a.k.a. Baroness Professor Susan Greenfield – on a television chat show. She is a pioneering scientist, entrepreneur, communicator of science, policy adviser, and an extremely interesting presenter of complex ideas. She seems to be intelligent, vivacious and wears makeup and nice clothes. All of this must really annoy many of her peers amongst the male scientists in the UK (especially the grumpy older ones).

Her most recent book is Tomorrow’s People (ISBN: 0713996315 ), and in it she warns that the coming integration of IT and biotechnology will have such a profound effect on the way we think and live that “we are standing on the brink of a mind makeover more cataclysmic that anything in our history.”

This is an area that will confront each of us in the near future. The technology to integrate bio-technology into human beings already exists and is near to commercialisation. We are already microchipping our pets, how long until someone says we should do it for children? It will seem like a good idea at the time. But it really is the thin end of the wedge. Prof. Greenfield is right, we do need to give serious consideration to how we want to use this technology. Otherwise it will change our lives profoundly in ways we may not like.

Australian software awards 2004

Was on a judging panel for the Australian Consensus Software Awards yesterday. It is fascinating how much really good software is out there, innovative and clever stuff. The winners are not announced for a few weeks – but info will be on the Consensus site fairly soon.

It is also interesting the variety of business models people in IT are using. The smaller companies (really micro businesses) often have a great idea & excellent development work but sometimes there is little idea about of how to bring the idea to market effectively.

I think there is a real market niche for a shared marketing resource across a number of these micro businesses. They clearly need help and probably don’t know how to get it, on the other hand, they may not even realise they need that kind of help.