Brenda Cooper

When CTO’s have Ideas that have Sex

A few weeks ago, I listened to a great TED talk by Matt Ridley called “When Ideas Have Sex.”  I liked it so much I showed it to my technology staff at work.  I think you should go watch it, too – it only takes 17 minutes.  Done?

Whether or not you watched it, the short premise is that our ideas mate, and we grow as a society because our ideas are shared.  This is essentially a sexy way to talk about the network affect — the way that the more computers get connected, the more useful each computer is.   Matt’s talk discusses that in terms of people.  The more people (and ideas) that are connected, the more useful they can all be.  Pick up a random object on your desk.  Could you make it all by yourself including making the raw materials?  I have a Janis Ian CD – I couldn’t make the music or the CD.  I have a small brown hair clip that cost less than a dollar (no way I could extract the oil and use chemistry to create the the plastic and metal to make the mold), and a DVD that I just received titled “The FiRe CTO Advisory Board.”  Like the  music CD, I wouldn’t have been able to do what’s on the CTO Advisory Board DVD all by myself. On it, a lot of very bright people let their ideas have sex in public.

Let me tell you about it.  There’s a concept called the CTO Challenge.  It might have started on the ArchiTECHS TV show on the History Channel.  Seattle-area technology Futurist Mark Anderson took a star from the ArchiTECHS (now canceled like most good TV), the irascible and brilliant  science fiction writer David Brin.   At Mark’s popular Future in Review (FiRe) conferences, he puts David into the role of challenger (presenter of a need) and then questioner (challenger of the solutions) for a mixed set of Chief Technology Officers leavened with a scientist or two and maybe a government type.  But weighted towards CTO’s.  I’ve seen how powerful this is; I even played David’s role at the last Seattle conference.

This May at the FiRe conference, the challenge was something like:

“We must get off of the carbon economy and we must do it blindingly fast.  We must figure out how to make alternative energy that scales to the huge, growing need of the modern economy to eat power.”

Now the CTO’s area good group to give this to – they want their businesses to be working in 10 years and they’ll need this power, and they mostly have children and grandchildren who will need a world to live in.  So they’re motivated.  They are also capable.  These people built companies that deliver real products and services at scale.

So the CTO’s got together and their ideas mated and had sex and created  new ideas (which will now mate…you get the idea?)

And that’s what is on the CD on my desk.  Here’s a link to the problem about energy scaling in the form of a five minute video by Nate Lewis, who presented at FiRe, and here is a link to a web-site where he lays out some interesting statistics. Of course, the CTO’s did a great job.  Even though it is about an hour long, I suggest you drop by the FiRe site and watch the video of the session if just to get a sense of the energy and excitement around the ideas (and no fair beating the ideas up yet  – this is the brainstorming part of the process, and they did really well).  Alternatively, there is a good post-session blog from just after the conference.

So why am I talking about this now?  Three reasons:

1)  I’m a believer on the problem and the need for a solution, and in the raw creativity of the CTO Challenges.  I want to help find ways to make the ideas stick.

2) I’m reading The Rational Optimist, by Matt Ridley (the “When Ideas Have Sex” author and speaker) and so I found it nicely synergistic to be presented with such a good example of sexy ideas just at this time.

3) The FiRe Global conference is  next month at the Four Seasons in Seattle.  It’s time to register.  More of this stuff will happen there – it’s a good place to go pick up on ideas and take them home with you.  Yes, the conference is expensive.  Yes, I’m on the advisory Board for the conference, but I don’t get a break for signing people up.  I pay to go, because it’s worth it.   Maybe I’ll see you there.  Here’s my blog about last year’s conference.

Whatever I do today, I’ll be encouraging my ideas to have sex.  And while they’re off having fun, I’ll be sitting at my computer in the salt mines of a CIO’s job which is…wait for it…encouraging ideas to have sex.We live in a pretty cool world.

One Response so far

  1. 1. Thoraiya

    I found that fascinating, thanks.

    Also, when I was at ted.com, I watched “the child-driven education” by Sugata Mitra, and was all OMG it’s THE DIAMOND AGE by Neal Stevenson! Awesome!