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On the heels of the FCC doing what everyone expected them to do today with regard to Net Neutrality, I thought I’d remind you of the awesome Ask a Ninja on Net Neutrality from 2006.
Yesterday I mentioned my strong support of Net Neutrality. As part of this, I signed on to a letter from a bunch of VC’s and entrepreneurs to Julies Genachowski, the chairman of the FCC. Fred Wilson reprinted the letter (he also signed it along with his partners at Union Square Ventures) in his post Net Neutrality.
Not surprisingly I received some emails and had a few conversations with folks that amounted to “I don’t really know anything about this Net Neutrality thing – can you explain it.” I did my best but after the third time decided to pull together a few public posts that might provide some perspective on the debate.
First, Ivan Seidenberg, the Verizon CEO slamming Net Neutrality. I have trouble reading this stuff (and am glad I wasn’t at the Supercomm speech) as I just violently disagree with his perspective. But – it’s useful context. One thing you’ll notice if you read across a bunch of this is that it’s pretty consistent language from the CEO’s of broadband providers, which is usually a clue as to how politicized this stuff is.
Next, you get a very interesting post from Eric Schmidt (Google CEO) and Lowell McAdam (Verizon Wireless CEO) titled Finding common ground on an open Internet. I’m not sure this post actually resolves anything, but it does a useful job of setting up the conversation and reinforcing the key principles being discussed and debated. It’s also ironic (or perplexing) given McAdam’s statements given the position that Seidenberg takes.
The best article is My chat with Google’s Vint Cerf in the Washington Post. If you don’t know Vint Cerf, he’s also commonly referred to as “the father of the Internet” It’s a great, clear interview that expresses the position I support.
I expect there will be an incredible amount of rhetoric around this over the coming months. Buckle up.
When I was on vacation last week, I read John Bogle’s book Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life. In addition to be a superb book, it had a bunch of tasty little nuggets in it. One of my favorites was “the three i’s – innovator, imitator, and idiot” that was attributed to Warren Buffett.
I thought of this nugget this morning when reading Fred Wilson’s post When Government Funds Business. In it, he concludes “When government funds business, it messes everything up.” One of his examples is the delicious irony that Citi – which just got more government money – is running traditional print ads in the NY Times.
Fred’s wife Joanne’s reaction to this is "We are paying for that ad. In a newspaper that less and less people read every day. No wonder they are in trouble". Yup – I’d put that behavior in the idiot column.
However, I’m aware of some things going on at Citi that I’d put in the innovator column. They aren’t public so I don’t think I can talk about them, but I’m amazed at how forward looking, innovative, potentially transformational, and relatively inexpensive these activities are. They are the kind of fundamental investments that you’d hope major companies are making to stay relevant in the next decade.
While most people aren’t innovators, that’s ok. Many American’s understand the importance of them and – when the innovators take leadership roles – they motivate the non-innovators to follow them. In a twist on Buffett’s line, I’d suggest that if you apply it to leadership, you can segment leaders into three categories: innovators, imitators, and idiots.
When I think about my experiences with large companies, I see Buffett’s quip all over the place. Their leaders include innovators, imitators, and idiots throughout the organization. Same with government. The challenge is the innovators – especially when they are in a culture that is playing defense or simply trying to survive – often get drowned out, discouraged, or marginalized.
I believe that one of the key foundations that America has been built on is the innovator. At all levels of society, throughout history, the innovator has led, created change, and inspired greatness throughout our history. People love to follow the innovator. While the innovator is willing to take risks that might result in failure, not taking the risks often results in even greater failure.
My appeal to all leaders in big companies – and in government – is to innovate. Play offense. If you don’t know how to do this, look around for the innovators in your organization and team up with them. Challenge the imitators to step up their game. And don’t tolerate the idiots in any way, shape, or form.
On the eve of the passing of the massive “economic stimulus package” (I was really hoping it was going to be more than 1 trillion so Dr. Evil could start saying “1 trillion dollars”) we are hearing “broadband broadband broadband.”
I’m going to be spending the day tomorrow at the Silicon Flatirons Conference titled The Digital Broadband Migration: Imagining the Internet’s Future and I’m speaking at 9:45 on the panel titled Overview Panel: The Internet’s Challenge to Policymakers. It’s clear that I’ve been set up as my co-panelists are:
- Kathryn C. Brown, SVP of Policy, Verizon, Former Chief of Staff FCC
- Kathleen O’Brien Ham, Vice President of Federal Regulatory Affairs, T-Mobile
- Dale Hatfield, Adjunct Professor, University of Colorado, Former Chief Engineer Federal Communications Commission
- William Kovacic, Chairman, Federal Trade Commission
- Bryan Tramont, Silicon Flatirons Senior Adjunct Fellow, University of Colorado, Partner, Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP
I guess I’m the dude that gets to say “telcos – please get out of the way.” Coincidentally, as I was catching up on my email this morning, I ran into a note from Bob Frankston (of Visicalc fame) pointing in response to this conference pointing me to his post titled The Broadband Internet? It’s a brilliant post that is right on the money. The punch line:
“Today people know that they want more “Internet” so they ask for more of the same by saying “broadband”. Our future lies in universal connectivity and simplicity. We can do better than living in the past glory of telecommunication.”
I really hope “Broadband” and “Internet” don’t get conflated. Our friendly neighborhood policy makers need to make sure they know the difference.
Fred Wilson has a magnificent post up this morning from Berlin titled Bits Of Destruction. In it, he nails a critical point about innovation.
“This downturn will be marked in history as the time where many of the business models built in the industrial era finally collapsed as a result of being undermined by the information age. Its creative destruction at work. It’s painful and many jobs will be lost permanently. But let’s also remember that its inevitable and we can’t fight it. Technology and information forces are unstoppable and they will reshape the world as we know it regardless of whether or not we want them to.”
Go read the whole article – he gives several real examples (publishing, banking, retailing, and auto). Then come back here to finish up and hear my punch line.
I’ve been living and working in and around innovation and entrepreneurship my entire adult life, starting with my first company and the research I did as a masters and Ph.D. student at MIT Sloan School under Eric von Hippel. My life experiences, along with all the history I’ve studied, come back to the same notion.
Innovation is a continual process of creative destruction of the norm.
People talk about economic cycles and waves of innovation. These are intersecting forces that drive each other. But innovation is not just limited to business, technology, and science – it impacts all of our existence on this planet. Think about innovation in religion, philosophy, art, architecture, social structures, forms of government, urban planning, economic theory, expression of human sexuality – whatever you want.
In the late 1990’s, there were a bunch of people, myself (and Fred) included, who believed that the Internet would have a dramatic impact on the way our world works and we live our lives. After the Internet bubble burst in 2001, there were a lot of people in “the established business world” who said something akin to “see – that was just a fad.” Anyone who has clung to the idea that the Internet was a fad is in a world of hurt right now, as the premise, functions, and implications of the Internet revolution of the late 1990’s becomes deeply instantiated across the global economy.
The next 20 years are going to be awesome. We inevitably will have lots of challenges and pain along the way as the waves of creative destruction pummel existing norms. But that’s just the way innovation works – and has always worked.