ICT Toronto progress?

ICT Toronto is (for now) a two-year project funded by the City of Toronto to develop the information and communications technology industry as a key sector in the Toronto region, with the following vision:

Toronto will become, and be acknowledged globally, as one of the 5 most innovative, creative and productive locations in the world for ICT research, education, business and investment by 2011.

As Joey noted today, judging from the web site and news presence not much has happened since the announcement in April:

It’s almost five months later, and it appears that not much has happened. I haven’t seen a press release since the one for their launch party, and a Google News search for “ICT Toronto” ends up without any results.

Joey goes on to lay it on the line:

In the meantime, Toronto’s techies, without any of the money or manpower earmarked for ICT Toronto have held 4 DemoCamps and a BarCamp, events which have gone a long way to fostering a sense of community and cooperation in the local tech scene. And of course, actually building information and communication technologies, something the suits seem to have completely overlooked.

This is hardly surprising. Silicon Valley was born of good circumstances coupled with the grassroots efforts of ambitious techies doing what they loved, not by government/business fiat. I’d call ICT Toronto a bunch of pointless martini-swilling stuffed shirts, but that’s an insult to martinis and dress shirts, both of which I happen to like.

David, Jay and I were invited to join ICT Toronto as “members” (really an ad-hoc advisory committee) back in June, which I blogged about here. Well, I attended my second breakfast meeting (no martinis, just mediocre coffee and croissants) yesterday sitting on behalf of Toronto’s BarCamp community, and wanted to share some progress, my thoughts and possible future directions. After the jump…

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Innovation Commons: Entrepreneurs need place, space and a good espresso

Among the many great outcomes of the recent BarCamp and Mesh conference binge was a coming together of like-minded young tech thought leaders and the creation of a new initiative – the Innovation Commons – “third spaces for Canada’s tech entrepreneurs”. A national network of community-based coworking spaces and cafes, catering to independent entrepreneurial and creative professionals. David Crow continues to lead the tech renaissance as the Executive Director of this effort:

What the heck is a third working space? Home = 1, Work = 2, cafe/other/InnovationCommons = 3. For many of us home and work are the same thing. Human beings are social animals. We thrive on the energy that comes from the collisions with other individuals. It’s the creative tension from differing view points. It’s the energy and excitement of BarCamp, mesh, and other events that we need to capture. The cafe lifestyle that begins to develop in urban environments. Why not provide a self-sustaining environment that facilitates, encourages, and fosters the energy and the people.

Boris is our Mann in Vancouver who got the ball rolling thanks to Bryght, Patrick Dinnen and Jevon MacDonald are on board. I have signed on, as have others. And we Canucks are connected to Silicon Valley coworking evangelist Chris Messina.

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Innovation and creativity, contrary to common belief, is not the lonely work of scientists in lab coats and the solitary artist in their studio. The creative process is influenced, inspired and taught by others. Knowledge is exchanged among peers and transferred from one generation to another. The social nature of innovation is critical to those seeking to commercialize their creations and ideas. The innovators of the future need “third places” – not home, not the office – places where the amazing creative energy of DemoCamp, BarCamp and Mesh happens on a daily basis among passionate communities of practice. Places where work gets done, ideas developed, knowledge exchanged, companies formed and social capital built.

Entrepreneurs. Artists. Marketers. Developers. Designers. People doing interesting things. People willing to teach and willing to learn. Passionate people.

Government and large companies are struggling with how to capture and develop these most ineffable qualities – creativity and innovation. Creativity cannot be engineered. It is not built on an assembly line. In the new global competition for creativity and innovation, the winners will be based in communities – both local and global, geographic and professional – that can create environments that are supportive of their creative process and allow the best and brightest to emerge. This presents a serious collective action problem: who will invest the human and financial capital to build the community and protect it from being co-opted by narrow private interests?

Innovation Commons and Coworking are emerging as lightweight yet powerful meta-innovations: innovations that support innovation. Inspired by the ideals of community, supported by sustainable business models, driven by passionate young leaders, influenced by the economics of open source software, this is exactly the right innovation at exactly the right time. Watch or join the revolution. Innovation Commons will be a nonprofit organization, and the business model will be published under a Creative Commons license. Open, community-driven and networked.

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Open Source Business Models

In looking forward to BarCampTdot, I’ve been trying to decide which of my favourite rants I’m going to dust off for the soapbox. Web 2.0 and VC? Disintermediation? Creativity and Community? Those who know me know that it is a rare topic on which I have neither opinion nor curiosity.

BarCamp is a great opportunity to try something new, so I’m going to be opening a discussion on Open Source Business Models: Beyond the Code. I don’t have the answers, but I have some questions. I am framing the discussion in two ways:

  1. Business models built on open-source software (FLOSS)
  2. Business models inspired by open-source software

If you have an interest in the topic and want to participate, first – sign up on BarCampTdot attendees list, second – put your name on the OpenSourceBusinessModelsBeyondTheCode wiki page, and third – add your questions and reference links to that page.

At the end of the session, we will have the discussion documented on the wiki page and freely available. How is that for open source?

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Find meaning through participatory education?

In the spirit of Jane Jacobs and the “In My Lifetime” meme, I thought I would highlight the issue of education. In the last book she published before her death, the cautionary Dark Age Ahead, Jacobs’ points to modern western civilization’s obsession with credentialing and certification, driven by professional aspirations or systems of qualification, at the expense of education. To Jacobs, the decline of broad-minded education is reducing our civilization’s ability to adapt to change, at the same time that change is accelerating and our problems becoming increasingly complex. We would be wise to heed her warnings, as we would have been to heed her warnings about modern/rationalist urban planning in 1961.

I am interested in educational and lifelong learning alternatives that enhance our human capacity for creativity and integrative thinking, which is so sorely lacking and so crucial to our future. Economists and environmentalists must bridge intellectual and dogmatic divides in order to integrate their perspectives on the world and solve some of our most pressing challenges. In a radically globalized “world is flat” economy, any job can be outsourced, not just manufacturing jobs. Value creation increasingly will become contingent on individuals creating unique jobs and new social roles for themselves, rather than following a predesigned career pattern.

Every individual born into this world needs to develop the tools and and skills to navigate this chaos and complexity in order carve out a meaningful and highly individuated path through life. To find meaning. This calls for creativity to be made a central, not marginalized, element of our education system. This student documentary about an open/participatory/experiential/free school is inspirational. (via Boing Boing)

There are interesting parallels to how Open Space unconference practices provide a platform for creativity and inspiration, as evidenced in a community of practice we call BarCamp. And in how Open-Source software projects govern themselves. Participation versus the lecture method; leadership that can come from anywhere; self-organized and self-governing; the close connections between learning, play and the creative moment. Practices such as these are exciting innovations that are gaining increasing attention and momentum. These practices may yet undo the damage of industrial-age education methods and prepare us for a radically altered future and its rapidly accelerating rate of change.

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Incendiary Accordion Blast

Joey warmed himself up good for a skeptical blast at the ICT Toronto initiative. Leave your comments with him.

I have to agree with Joey, Rob Hyndman and others that it is very curious that an initiative intended in large part to promote Toronto as a tech cluster (to foreign investment, in part) did a launch event before making a reasonable attempt at a web site. With the plethora of cheap/free tools and high quality design talent in this city, you would think that ICT Toronto would have at least setup a nice little WordPress site. Unfortunately, government is even worse than large companies at being agile, adaptable and resourceful.

What we need in this city is meta-innovation: innovations that support innovation. How our public and private sector institutions adapt to a rapidly changing environment will to a great extent determine our collective fate. Agile processes and tools, from OpenSpace to eXtreme Programming, from Upcoming.org to wikis, can enable rapid adaptation.

Who is going to lead this? Perhaps instead of BarCamp asking ICT Toronto for support, we should simply offer some help. Could we put together a set of introductory workshops to blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, agile project management, OpenSpace for ICT/innovation/cluster policy people to attend? Probably.

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Updated: ICT Toronto Strategy

The ICT Toronto strategy launch event at MaRS marked an important milestone in the development of a vibrant technology community in the city. It wasn’t exactly a barn-burner as far as these events go, but it was great to hear from Mayor David Miller. More of interest to policy wonks and strategy nerds like me than to a broad technology audience, the event brought out a selection of well-suited professionals along with the “dungarees”, i.e. the BarCamp crowd. David, Sutha, Joey, Jay, Bryce and I were noticeably underdressed (Tom always looks good). Joey does a good job summarizing the main elements of the ICT report on the Accordion Guy blog. [Updated]: Rob Hyndman posts some good points here.

The strengths of the Toronto ICT (that’s “Information & Communications Technology” for you non-policy wonks) cluster are formidable. Toronto is the third biggest cluster in North America, next to Silicon Valley and New York. Interestingly, Toronto also has the third biggest entertainment cluster in North America, as well as having a very strong Financial Services cluster. The combination of these assets have the potential to be much greater than the sum of their parts, but there are deep structural barriers to be overcome. During Q&A, I was glad to hear David Ticoll take on one of those structural barriers – the dominance of U.S. transplants in Toronto’s cluster in the context of the acquisition of innovative companies and talent by U.S.-based multinationals.

Retaining and repatriating top tier talent is a theme that keeps appearing in my work, and this to me appears to be one the biggest challenges to be overcome in achieving this strategy’s goals. Companies and talent will go to where the capital, quality of life and the appreciation of their work is. If sources of capital are not sufficiently knowledgeable about emerging technologies and business models, innovative businesses will direct their attention to where they can find that capital. It is natural for innovative firms to look south for the validation and resources they need to realize their commercialization plans. What can the city of Toronto do about this structural barrier? How will the financial community rise to the challenge? How can talent be so embedded into the community that it won’t want to leave?

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Keeping Up with the Momohs

Osh blogs about serendipity here. Clearly we’ve been spending time chasing similar ideas, but I missed Malcolm Gladwell at Rotman and I’m dying for a tour of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and the Institute for Quantum Computing. With recent strong showings at DemoCamp from Waterloo-based entrepreneurs and technologists, I’m thinking reciprocation might be in order. Anybody interested in a DemoCamp tech road-trip to Waterloo? I’ll bring the beer.

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[mesh]: The Economics of Ideas

With the mesh conference coming to town in May, I decided I will use the time leading up to it to intensify my research and prepare. Yes, I am a strategy nerd and a political economy geek; I need to get myself up to speed so I can usefully contribute to the conversation. David Crow helpfully posted a good reference to some seminal pieces on Marketing/Web 2.0. I am going to pick up just one thread here: the Economics of Ideas, which really is much bigger than either marketing or the web. Paul Romer argues that [pdf]:

Every generation has perceived the limits to growth that finite resources and undesirable side effects would pose if no new recipes or ideas were discovered. And every generation has underestimated the potential for finding new recipes and ideas.

This has important implications….

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Remarkable Stupidity

The warnings around climate change continue to increase in volume and intensity, but with little effect on effecting change in our collective behaviour. Here’s that latest, as reported in the Globe and Mail:

If current temperature trends continue to the end of the century, the Earth’s climate will be warm enough to cause a massive melting of Greenland’s ice sheet and a partial collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet, resulting in a torrent of melt water that will raise global sea levels by up to six metres, according to a pair of new research papers….
…He said that if serious efforts to limit global warming are not taken soon, “we’re committed to four to six metres of sea-level rise in the future.”

Four to six metres by the end of this century. This is sobering, to say the least. Meanwhile, at our friendly global hegemon to the south of us, science and scientists are being suppressed. This is remarkable and puzzling. With so much scientific consensus, why is denial such a strong force among some, and why is denial strongest where power is most concentrated?

The challenges around the management of complex systems made more complex by past human intervention was a major topic in Thomas Homer-Dixon’s The Ingenuity Gap, which was a big influence on my thinking. A call to action for increased creativity, innovation and ingenuity, Homer-Dixon highlighted the dangers of thinking that past performance will predict future results. Complex systems may appear long-run stable and then hit a tipping point that triggers a sudden change to a new stable equilibrium. Economic, political, ecological and social systems all display this kind of behaviour, and the adjustments can be very dangerous.

I have a profound respect for the power of human creativity to overcome most any challenge. But I also believe that as a society we need to cultivate, protect and grow that creative spark in order to create much better ideas to address some very serious collective action problems. Complexity and our inability to manage it is challenging our economic and political systems and straining our institutions’ capacity to adapt to a rapidly increasing rate of change. This is the challenge of our age, and one that needs to be articulated and discussed.

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Ontario Budget: Cities, Creativity & Innovation

The interesting times continue in the technology and creative industries in Ontario and the Toronto region. I thought I would post a summary of today’s Ontario provincial budget speech, as it relates to research and innovation, the technology and creative industries and creative communities.

The big theme here is that cities, creativity and innovation are becoming major areas of government attention and investment. This is necessary to help transform the Ontario economy from it’s industrial present to its knowledge and creativity-driven future. Livable cities, cultural vitality and social inclusion of disenfranchised communities are central to achieving these goals. (See Richard Florida)

Given the macroeconomic context and the nature of global competitiveness, I expect that future budgets and governments will continue to invest in these areas. This is not a momentary blip or flavour of the month, but the beginning of a steady march of change. This transition marks a historical opportunity for creative professionals, innovators, community builders and social entrepreneurs to step up and carve out a place for themselves in this future.

A long-ish overview of some key areas that won’t be extensively covered in mainstream media follows, along with my thoughts and perspective on the underlying issues. After the jump…

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