Big Idea Watch 2007

I love big ideas, remarkable ideas, ideas that can change the world.

In this post, I share a short list of big ideas that I’d like to research and perhaps pursue this year in partnership with like-minded individuals and organizations. (Is this Consulting 2.0?) These aren’t problems I’ll solve in 2007 (or even a lifetime), but are fascinating puzzles worth pursuing right now in theory and in practice. These are the big ideas worth watching, with big implications.

What’s on your list?

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Economics of Abundance

As the cost of broadband connectivity and processing power tend towards free, and as economic value is increasingly exchanged in digital form, a new and little understood interplay between the economics of scarcity and the economics of abundance is unfolding. How do we start to think about a world of abundance and how does it relate to the still very real physical world of scarcity?

Consilience and the Medici Effect

Eminent scientist Edward O. Wilson, a 2007 TED Prize Winner for ideas with the potential to change the world, describes consilience as “the synthesis of knowledge from different specialized fields of human endeavour”. The work Wilson describes is that of reaching across domains of knowledge and expertise to stitch together a more robust and innovative body of human knowledge. It closely parallels Frans Johansson’s “intersections” from his Medici Effect, and points to a path of huge innovation potential.

Open Source, Open Innovation and Regional Innovation Systems:

Open source software provides a fascinating model that points to an alternative understanding of the economics of innovation. Open source inspired innovation models offer the opportunity to explore strategic options that include alternative conceptions of intellectual property, innovation and commercialization practices and economic development strategies. My operating thesis:

The global megalopolis that can integrate open innovation models into its economic structure and culture will, in aggregate, innovate faster and over time become more competitive in a post-industrial, post-information age global economy.

Emergence, Self-Organization and Networked Organizations

Emergence describes the development of complex systems from chaos. The laws of emergence as applied to evolutionary biology may have intriguing parallels in the social sciences, where economies, civil society movements and technology-driven social networks demonstrate emergent behaviour that mimics some of the characteristics of biological life.

How can human society reconfigure itself and its institutional and organizational structures to take advantage of the power of emergent behaviour? What basic social rules allow self-organization to thrive? How do organizations reconfigure themselves to understand and utilize these powerful natural forces?

Creativity and Place-making:

What makes for a creative place, what are its components and characteristics? How is creativity nurtured by and attracted to a sense of place? What makes creative industries thrive in particular places? How does culture and creativity offer a lever to transform communities and economies and sustain our quality of life? (My friends at Artscape have a lot of ideas.)

2 thoughts on “Big Idea Watch 2007”

  1. That people are talking about the “economics of abundance” is in my view just a reflection of an optimistic “bubble” period. Only a few things are becoming “too cheap to meter”, such as computing power recently and now electronic communications. These few changes have massive implications, of course, but I get worried when people start believing that the golden age of humanity is upon us. The usual economic follow-on to a major technological shift is a depression.

    Also, I’m more used to the term “abundance” from so-called New Age circles, where my understanding of the meaning is that there is enough of what one needs, which is very different from an unlimited amount. For instance, there may be “enough” only if there is little waste: think of the hunting cultures where, on principle, every part of the animal is used. The “unlimited” meaning of the term has very different implications, e.g. that waste can be useful as it permits trying many things and throwing away those that don’t work out. Perhaps a new term now needs to be coined to succeed what I’m used to: I suppose “enoughness” would do but it lacks a certain something!

    What big ideas are on my list? The biggest is socionomics, which dramatically changed my understanding of how many things in human society really work, from war, politics and the economy to what clothes people wear and what music they listen to. But a warning: I was happier when I was ignorant.

  2. Socionomics…thanks for that one, fascinating. Yet another topic for Rohan’s very own not just Web 2.0 blog!

    Abundance is really about exponential technology change in terms of price/performance of processing and bandwidth. As the cost of processing and bandwidth tend towards free, rational economic activity in the digital economy will look different from the economics of physical scarcity. I’m borrowing this use of the term abundance from Chris Anderson.

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