Openness, anarchy and innovation

The older I get and the more I learn, the less I know. I’m constantly struck by different points of view presented to me, shades of gray in areas I thought were close to being absolute, and exciting opportunities that turn out to have downsides requiring push-back on those in control.

Dave Winer makes a great point today about the requirement that the Web — and the conferences, meetups, and access to them — must be open. Not invite only, not closed to points of view, not focused on a singular path without options to digress or be tangential. As evidenced by all the categories you see in my left blog column, I have a fair number of eclectic interests and, like the name of my blog, I try to connect the dots. So I’m even more struck when I connect dots and it turns out there are dots I hadn’t even seen and this happens over-and-over again (and with increasing frequency) making openness more important to me by the day.

At the Web 2.0 conference a few weeks ago, I was struck by the dirty little secret no one talked about there (the secret being the woefully inadequate nature of true web services interoperability and the technical infrastructure barriers in the way of all the cool startups that were showcasing their stuff). When I asked others and ran this by them, without exception it was top-of-mind and a glaring omission for other attendees and there wasn’t a meaningful, open forum for dialogue about it (and the $2,795 price of admission created its own barrier to entry).

In 1983 while still in my 20’s, I was in Hawaii for the Apple Int’l Sales Meeting (post about it here) where Steve Jobs introduced the Macintosh to the company and sales organization. I knew then that I didn’t “fit” the Apple culture or lifestyle and it seemed like I was in a foreign land. As a midwestern, suburban kid with traditional values and upbringing, I wasn’t comfortable with the seemingly radical thoughts and envelope-pushing being done by the sandal-wearing crowd (as I wore my preppy Polo shirt, khaki trousers and Topsiders) though I had already fallen deeply in love with the notion of windows, icons, a mouse and how they would clearly change the nature of human/computer interaction. It took a radical way of thinking to make this a reality.

Man how things have changed in my head. Acceptance, openness to ideas, approaches, and thoughts, are all critical for innovation and I’ve had that mindset for many years. Change is messy. New ideas often create pain in the minds of those sitting in the midst of the status quo who most often try to kill them…but innovation and real change demands being open to new ideas, methods and approaches.


The more I think about it the stronger I am in my belief that — at a minimum at important, major conferences — a model for conference participation needs to be something like what AlwaysOn CEO, Tony Perkins, did at his recent Innovation Summit at Stanford University which I participated in from Minnesota.

The entire conference was webcast. Not only were participants able to view the panels and workshops, but could participate through an online chat that was projected up on to a huge screen onstage! This took a lot of guts on Perkins part and yes, it was anarchy. At the same time it was innovative and, most importantly, it was open.

Even Doug Kaye’s ITConversations are incredibly valuable but — in his deference to most status quo conference organizers who want to protect revenue and the speakers who copyright and probably sell much of that same content — the lag time on release of podcasts from those conferences are weeks or months later. This is *not* in keeping with the instant, always on, always accessible, rapid proliferation of ideas and thoughts that the Web fosters and makes these podcasts increasingly irrelevant.


  1. Bjorn Freeman-Benson on October 24, 2005 at 10:05 am

    Another take on the “open meetings” idea – we are running EclipseCon as an open source project: all the submissions are done in the open, via Bugzilla, and the entire community is invited to review them (via Bugzilla). Even the presentations are available in advance.

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Connecting the Dots Podcast

Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.