I came back from a whirlwind trip to Foo Camp just last week. Now that the dust has settled, with a bit of distance, it’s time to look back and take a first look at what resonated most…
How can we make traditionally expensive expert knowledge available for free for social causes and communities in need?
Sharing professional advice freely & openly
I make my living as a consultant, and as an organizer of conferences. Therefore I’m well aware of the prices that both organizations and individuals pay for advice, learning, and access to knowledge.
Yet, not all communities/organizations/individuals can afford to hire experts if they need input of some sort or another. Or worse, they have to resort to fake experts who seem to work more cheaply, but also deliver worse or the wrong kind of advice.
I the spirit of David Friedman, I’m also starting an idea dump. To some degree, I’ve been using this blog to do just that anyway for many years. But moving forward, I’ll more clearly label this under the tag “ideas” for easier searchability. It’s a bucket for all the stuff I’d like to exist but most likely will never get around to building or implementing myself. So please go ahead and build it. I’ll be happy to help.
Wherever you look you see corporations trying to get closer to startups, variably in terms of reputation, release cycles, culture or reputation.
One of the more common ways is to start an incubator or accelerator program, which certainly isn’t the worst option out there.
It is hard, however, to let the learnings and culture flow back from these programs into the HQ.
After some conversations around this, I think one path to explore might be temporary entrepreneur-in-residence (EiR) programs. This isn’t new, of course, and particularly in the US you can find the occasional one – usually in VC firms.
I believe that the concept makes a lot of sense for non-VC firms as well.
This should especially true for entrepreneurs who didn’t just have a massive exit (as is usually the case for the VC-EiR model): Those entrepreneurs building the next generation of hardware, for example, who bootstrap their endeavors and haven’t made it yet financially because they are breaking new ground and exploring markets that have yet to be fully defined.
So what could that look like?
- Embed an entrepreneur in your company for 3 months. Like an Entrepreneur-in-residence, working side by side with your product and strategy team, both on their own product and at the edges of your company’s focus.
- The EiR can heavily use their outside network, with enough wriggle room to at least maintain their own things (think 2 half-days in a week – let’s say they’d be off Tuesdays and Thursdays after lunch).
- The EiR is paid a solid management-style salary, so there’s a financial incentive, too – after all, founders often bootstrap their own companies, so a cash injection might just be a good incentive.
And then let them roam and work with your teams, embedded, hopefully on some kind of joint project that connects your business with theirs.
Of course working conditions should be optimized to empower these entrepreneurs to play out their full potential. Small things like flexible work times and BYOD should be standard. (If you can’t handle someone bringing in their own laptop, then you’re not ready for the program.)
I’m pretty sure that this would be quite beneficial to both sides. The Entrepreneur gets to know a potential collaborator and partner, as well as a little cash injection. The corporation gets the external domain knowledge and opens up its own culture in the process, and unlocks a large new network of potential collaborators.
These are just some initial thoughts on what an EiR program could look like outside the VC context. Curious to hear if it’s been done before, or to help set one up.
We keep seeing politicians making decisions about technology and the web that seem odd and ill-informed.
In some cases, this might be due to lobbying, and that would be annoying. In other cases, it might be pure ignorance, and those I would chalk up as lost cases.
What would be the worst, though, is if a politian who is motivated and willing and just lacking the time to develop a deeper understanding makes a bad call, because of that’s preventable.
Politicians and their staffers work under immense time pressure. What’s more, they need to be informed about a huge number of topics, and the intricate, often complex details of how (for example) certain elements of the web work simply can’t get the amount of attention to grok it.
If a politician is high enough up in the proverbial foodchain, they might be able to muster the resources to have that research done. But not everybody can do that.
In the past I’ve often been the friend called by journalist and politics friends who needed a bit of trusted tech advice, and I’m always happy to give it. But not everybody is in a position to call a friend who knows this stuff.
Given the harsh, often ridiculing treatment politicians get when mentioning anything about the web online and getting even a tiny detail or reference wrong, I can almost understand why they don’t dare openly asking for advice. (Almost. But still. Nobody should be ridiculed for trying.)
So how about a hotline of sorts where politicians and their staffers can call for a quick briefing. Discreetly: Nobody but the two people on the line need to know. So they can ask away and need not risk being publicly mocked. In short time, they’d have a better understanding of how stuff works, and could make better informed decisions. A safe space to learn, in brief bursts of briefings.
Bonus: I think lobbyists would hate it, at least the one thriving on knowledge gaps on the politicians’ side. (Copyright lobby, I’m looking at you!)
Personally I wouldn’t mind setting aside an hour or two a week to have a few chats that way. And I’m sure we could find another half dozen of people, experts in their fields, trustworthy not to spill the details of these conversations.
Worth doing? [Y/N]
Even though a few friends of mine have been directly involved in the project, I had been watching Palomar5 from a distance. (Mostly because I was literally, physically far away.)
I spent most of the day there and came away with a lot of impressions, and also pretty impressed. Let me share a few things I noticed during the day.
But first, to get an idea what Palomar5 is, let me quote from their website:
Palomar5 is looking for creative young minds all over the world to propose new working environments fit for the skills and needs of a digital generation. Palomar5 and affiliate curators are currently giving 30 residents the possibility to stay for six weeks in an Innovation Camp in Berlin. This is a chance for collaboration as well as self-expression. This is an opportunity to network with leaders from economy, science, culture and politics and to meet experts at the forefront of their fields. The residents are passionate, eager and full of ideas, Palomar5 is a 2000sqm incubation-space that’ll make them blossom. They’ve got the ideas, and we have a place for them to make them real.
Innovation has been increasingly popularized into becoming a trend and a commodity. There are numerous enterprises, think-tanks, and conferences solely devoted to the mass production of innovation. Unfortunately one can put wings on a shopping cart and sell it as Innovation at a high price. But when it comes to questioning and reforming prevailing paradigms there is too much talk and not enough action. Lot’s of coloured bubbles. Lot’s of profit. No real help. Palomar5 was established as a non-profit initiative seeking innovation outside of corporate structures. The founders of Palomar5 feel that “innovation” itself is in need of reformation.
The whole project is backed by Deutsche Telekom and a few smaller sponsors, and clearly those sponsors were serious about Palomar5. They rented an old industrial complex and refurbished the interior to house 30+ participants for six weeks, including some major workspace, today’s summit and to allow for the participants to prototype or build all kinds of stuff. It really all looked quite impressive and well done.
More than the location though I liked how clearly you could see the intense group dynamics going on between the Palomar5 folks. They had been locked up together for six weeks in this cool playground setting (that had the feel of some massive hacker space-meets-design school), and the effect was a group bonding that seemed to foster a lot of creativity, and it’s also clear that those 30 “youngsters” (as they are unfortunately called in the image trailer) will keep in touch with their fellow colleagues. No doubt, we’ll see some cool projects come out of these networks in the future.
To give you an idea of what kind of things the groups came up with (in completely random order): a massive hollow egg that serves as a room of peace and quite to retreat to in case of stress; an RFID-based set of screen and cards to transmit information in a haptic, physical way. And, what I personally found most intriguing, a network of 16 communications satellites that would provide broadband for rural areas all over the world – to be built under the premise that access to information is a human right.
The mindblowing part here: according to the team’s estimates this could be done with a mere 1.72 billion dollars. That’s quite a sum, but taking into account that the German cash-for-clunkers program (the so-called Abwrackprämie) is estimated to cost altogether $3.5b, while the US economic stimulus package was set at an even steeper $789b, it seems really doable. How awesome would that be?
There were, of course, a thing or two that weren’t perfect. For one, this project was clearly fueled by big money and a lot of adrenaline, both of which tend to burn quick and brief. How successful it really is will only become clear when we look back in six months or so and see how the projects and personal connections will have evolved.
And more concretely, almost every presentation given indicated that the young generation, the so-called digital natives, were smarter, better, and more in-the-know than the “old generation”. Everything was made to be the result of a generation gap, and that the “old corporations” would be losing this generation both as customers and employees. While the latter point certainly isn’t completely untrue, I don’t think at all that “getting” the web & digital culture with all their special characteristics like network effects, real-time communication and always-on culture is a matter of age or generation.
In fact, I believe that going down that path is a fairly dangerously wrong perception, it’s lying to yourself. I know many people (and I’m sure you do, too) who are way to old to fit the digital natives label, yet they really know their digital stuff. On the other hand, not everybody below 30 would fit that description either. So these labels are inaccurate and poorly stereotyped. What’s more, it’s arrogant, and that’s a danger in itself. (Not to mention that these 30 folks wouldn’t have gotten this opportunity without the older folks funding them because they do get it. By trying to erect that odd native/immigrant barrier no good is done to either side. (Which by the way goes for digital as well as other areas where this terminology is used.)
But be this as it may, while I don’t agree to this particular point in the arguments, what the organizers and the team of Palomar5 have put together here is a true feat, and something they can be proud of. It’s also a promising model for other corporations to get a bunch of good ideas while giving a hand full of young folks to gain experience. It’s a classical win/win. And I’m curious to hear more stories from inside the workshop over the next few weeks, once the participants are released back into the normal world…
ps. The Palomar5 Summit name badges are hands down the best I’ve ever seen at any conference. They are huge (roughly the size of my hands), well readable, and include all the information you’ll need at the conference: Participant’s name, company and URL and tags on the front. On the back you find program, floor map, hashtag, conference twitter account, wifi password, sponsor info and a reminder of the next day’s party. No more stupid flyers!