From Futurist to Nowist

Director of MIT Media Lab, Joi Ito gave TED Talk on becoming a “now-ist” instead of being a “futurist”. In this talk, Ito describes how he was in Cambridge at MIT when a magnitude 9 earthquake hit off the coast of Japan. Ito was panicked, as he watched the news and the press that was coming from the Tokyo power company about the explosion at the nuclear power plant that was only 200 kilometers away from his home where his family was at that time.

The people on TV weren’t telling Ito anything that he wanted (needed) to hear regarding the nuclear reactor, levels of radiation, etc. So, he went to the internet for information instead, and there he found people in similar situations. So, they formed a community called Safecast to measure the radiation and get the information out to everyone else because the reality was that the government wasn’t going to do it for the people. Today, Safecast has 16M data points (the largest open database of radiation measurements), data visualization tools, an app that shows radiation in Japan and around the world, and other resources for the open community.

It’s remarkable to see how people can come together so quickly under a shared purpose to build something of immense value like this. One year ago, I was in Nuevo Vallarta with my family – my wife, three kids and parents – when Hurricane Patricia hit the west coast of Mexico, just 180 miles south of where we were staying. For twenty-four hours we monitored the hurricane from our mobile devices, getting access to news from the U.S. because the Mexican government wasn’t providing any information. All we got from U.S. news outlets was fear-mongering about how deadly the hurricane was going to be – not just because of the winds, but more so because of the tsunami-sized waves that the hurricane would bring ashore. Not at all comforting when you’ve been evacuated under ground (sea) level in a bunker. Having factual, open-sourced data like this in that situation would have been invaluable. The closest I could find was the National Hurricane Center, which became my main source for information during that period.

Ito goes on to discuss his perspective on innovation. Three key takeaways are:

  1. “Deploy or Die” motto – Moore’s Law made the cost of trying new things (innovation) virtually zero. So, innovation has moved to the fringes where makers can make and test things first before they need to hire MBAs and raise funds.
  2. “Learning over Education” – A perspective that “education is what they do to you” whereas “learning is what you do to yourself.” This particularly resonates with me, as I’ve practically googled my way into the career that I’m in. I wasn’t a marketer by training. I stumbled into this six years ago when I left the movie business. But, curiosity and the willingness to test and try new things accelerated my success as a marketer.
  3. “Compass over Maps” – You can’t expect to plan things from beginning to end at the beginning. But, if you have a strong compass, you can discover your way to the outcome you seek. This speaks to being resourceful, which is the first thing I look for in a team member after culture fit. 

Below is Ito’s TED Talk. Hope you enjoy.

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