- Social Media
- Active Citizenship
- Good Giving
- Corporate Responsibility
- Be Fearless
It’s the year 2010, aren’t we supposed to have flying cars by now? And teleports? If you were to ask me 20 years ago what the future would be like, I would have told you about moon colonies, not Twitter.
To be sure, the techvolution in information sharing and communications we have experienced since the birth of the computer has been nothing short of astonishing, but many industries have not yet seen the same rate of exponential innovation and progress that the online world has undergone in the past twenty years. We still have not put a man on Mars, cured cancer or found a reliable source of clean energy – accomplishments which many thought would have been done decades ago.
I recently read a blog post by Wendy Schmidt, a Silicon Valley veteran. Remarking on the BP oil spill and the state of technology in the oil industry, Wendy had this to say:
When I think about it, I realize we are looking at an old operating system: last century's energy infrastructure coupled with an inadequate and out-of-date understanding of the human relationship with natural resources. We need Version 2.0. The sooner the better.
Out of context, she could have been talking about the car industry, the airline industry, you name it. While indeed we have witnessed exceptional progress in these industries, the ideology and rapid advancement of the “2.0” revolution has yet to break out of virtual space and spur the fast paced innovation, invention, investment and infrastructure capable of carrying these industries to breakout capacity. The good news is, Wendy is out to change this.
Wendy Schmidt is funding the Oil Cleanup X Prize, a $1 million dollar award for the most innovative and effective solution for cleaning up today’s disaster, as well as those of the future (China is ALREADY wrestling with an oil spill of its own). While the Challenge - put on by the X Prize Foundation - is guaranteed to breed overwhelmingly positive effects on the environment, wildlife and businesses around the gulf and elsewhere, what intrigued me most was the concept and the strategy underlying the prize’s purpose; namely, to build the 2.0 infrastructure necessary to resolve a detrimental and pervasive threat to our environment.
Schmidt chose the X Prize Foundation as the platform to build this infrastructure so that she could utilize the venture model of the 4 previous X Prizes, which have led to the birth of the $1 Billion private space travel industry and the 100 mile per gallon car; you can check out the other successes of the X Prize in the video below. As Wendy puts it:
Through competition, new ideas and approaches that do not advance due to lack of funding, can have a chance to develop, be tested, and make their way into the public imagination and eventually, the marketplace.
According to Wendy, who spent her adult life working within the Web 2.0 Revolution, this is the same model which transformed building-sized computers to pocket-sized smart phones, and the key to building tomorrow’s world.
This idea, that the tenets of the Web 2.0 revolution could be applied across industries and be used to resolve global problems from Malaria to the world water crisis really started to inspire me, and I began searching for the common threads between the communications revolution, the X Prize and other programs seeking to exploit this model, like the TED Fellows program. I am clearly no expert, but it seems to me that there are three major practices which helped spur the online 2.0 revolution and could help bring the revolution to industries offline:
- Crowdsourcing: The success of the iPhone is very much credited to Apple, but the driving forces behind its achievement are the Apps, developed by non-Apple entrepreneurs around the world. By offering developers the tools and the incentive to create these apps, Apple was able to exploit the world’s greatest resource – the minds of the global public. The truth is that often, the best ideas and inventions are found outside of the company, and even outside the industry. The best path to innovation is to harvest these ideas through crowdsourcing, not necessarily to come up with them yourself. After all, no company has ALL the answers; someone out there probably knows how to build the perfect flying car, he just might not work for Ford or Honda. I believe the prize is one of the best methods of crowdsourcing knowledge and skills, but there are plenty of methods available to achieve this. For example, check out OpenIDEO, a new platform whose purpose is to crowdsource good ideas and then crowdsource input for those ideas to help them gain the momentum to become reality.
- Experimentation & Targeted Failure: As Peter Diamandis, CEO of the X Prize put it: “The day before something is a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea”. But one breakthrough can take a hundred crazy ideas or experiments, just as there have been hundreds of failed social networking sites for every success like Twitter. Even the internet had to go through a market bust before it was able to become the superpower it is today. The trick is to benefit and learn from every failure rather than to demonize it; after all, some of the biggest breakthroughs in history have been failures in their own right. Penicillin was discovered when a scientist accidentally forgot to cover his Petri dish. If you don't believe in this idea, just think about Facebook, a constantly evolving program, which is always experimenting with new features, but tweaking them whenever public opinion is more rash than expected.
- Investment in Big Dreams: According to Wendy Schmidt, one of the most exciting parts of working in Silicon Valley is constantly challenging the notion of what is possible. Web 2.0 was built on the optimism and the imaginations of web entrepreneurs, not on pragmatism or a reliance on hard facts. The same can be true in the physical world. According to the X Prize website, when a prize is launched, the question changes from “can it happen” to “when will it happen”. Sometimes it takes an investment in people’s dreams, rather than their finished products, to make the future happen. We can do anything we can dream of, but we need to dream the dream first.
Truth be told, there are obviously very many more factors that led to the online 2.0 revolution and that are necessary to bring that revolution to the offline world, but I think these are the first three gates that need to be opened in order to get the wheels turning. Embracing any of these three principles involves taking on a good deal of risk, something many companies are very uncomfortable with, but I'd argue that risk is necessary for progress. Once this progress is realized, any and all risk will be justified, and today’s dream can become tomorrow’s reality.
What else do you think we need to bring the 2.0 to the offline world? And how do you think we can apply it to the social sector? Let us know in the comments section below.