The idea that Joi Ito tried to convey at the MIT Enterprise Forum of NYC recently in midtown was the importance of creativity and innovation in business. Ito explained how creativity is something that is more self-limited than anything else. “Education stifles agile innovation, what we should do is give students permission to think and create. In today’s education we have to deprogram people from being obedient. So in order to do that, you have to create the right environment and you have to give people courage and permission. It’s a lot easier than you think in some ways, but in some ways it’s a lot harder. It’s like telling people to meditate, but don’t just think about the bottom line, and then all they do is think about the bottom line.”
Ito is the director of the MIT Media Lab, the chair of Creative Commons on the board of the New York Times Company and the MacArthur Foundation. Businessweek named him on the 25 Most Influential People on the web in 2008, and Foreign Policy Magazine as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers.
Ito finds the NY tech eco-system to be quite interesting. He said that as people go up the layers of the stack, from the routers on up, that they get closer and closer to where they need to interact with culture. “I think that Silicon Valley is very good at being the hardware, routing and software. But I think as you start to interact with ecommerce and advertising and culture and hardware, it’s really NY and the East Coast in general that has a really interesting advantage. My message is that I think Moore’s law and innovation is really going to hit hardware and media at a completely different level. And I think we’re in a very good position here in NY.”
One trend he sees is the idea of hardware startups being venture funded; he is sure that is going to take off this year. “But there is a big challenge — most VC’s don’t understand how to fund hardware,” he explained.
“More and more, the stuff that is successful is less about planning. In the old days you tried to collect resources, stop resources, and them simply control resources. R&D would be in the center and you would push it to the edges. But today, it’s about pulling the resources in as you need them. Today we think about the power of agility — agile software and lean startups. In 2005, YouTube was a dating site with video, and the only way it survived is that they pivoted.
Ito goes on to explain how every single line of code is a liability to agility. “One more engineer who doesn’t want to pivot; doesn’t want to dump that code. Every piece of intellectual property, every department, every single thing you used to think was an asset, is actually a liability when it comes to agility. My friend at Facebook said that they don’t have strategy, because by the time they have strategy, the world has changed. They are really spending a lot of energy trying to retain their agility. They don’t spend much time with roadmaps.”
Ito ended the conversation with one basic principle on his mind: learning over education and practice over theory. “At some schools, people spend a lot of time testing a theory and the reality shows it doesn’t work. But they don’t question the theory; they question the reality or the experience. The internet and the Media Lab are very opposite. We just do something, even though we don’t know what we’re are looking for. Then if it works, we try to figure out why.