The World We Explore- Joi Ito, Frans Johansson Zeitgeist Americas 2012 - Clip

Uploaded by zeitgeistminds on 15.10.2012

>>Joi Ito: I'm Japanese and I was working in Japan in
media before the Internet, and everywhere I saw was this ladder where you didn't actually
have any decision-making power -- ability to act until you're about 45.
And when the Internet happened -- the Internet is not a technology. I think it's really kind
of a fundamental philosophy, which is the ability to innovate without asking permission.
And so this permission was innovation's ability for a 20-year-old to just start an ISP, to
start a company. That was what the Internet was about.
I think that it unleashed this explosion of innovation, but it makes life a lot more complex
and hard to predict. And the kids that were born sort of after
Internet are thriving in this sort of permissionless innovation world. And I think those people
who have been in institutions where things have been about planning and thinking and
permission based are having trouble. >>Alison Stewart: Frans, you come from an
interesting background. You do. >>Frans Johansson: You think?
My dad is Swedish and my mother is black, African-American, and Cherokee. So I was -- you
know the typical Swede. When I looked around, not lots of people like me, except maybe my
sister. She was the other one. And I think that gave me a different perspective on the
world. Once I got to the states, I went to college
here, it really wanted me to explore these different intersections, either between different
cultures, which is the way I grew up, but also between different industries, fields,
disciplines. And what I discovered was that at these intersections
that is where actually the real new groundbreaking ideas happened. That's what happened when
I started the various companies, but also my research with people that were breaking
new ground, almost always they were either coming out of something from this area, headed
into something else, either on purpose or accidentally, but it was when they were able
to connect these different aspects that they broke new ground, whether it's sort of architects
learning from termites how to design new buildings or fashion designers, the woman who designed
the burqini, talked about in my most recent book, you know, you're combining a bikini
and a burqa, it doesn't seem to connect, but actually in reality they do connect, and when
you make that connection you break new ground. >>Alison Stewart: You have a great exercise
in your book, the Medici Effect, that I want you just to throw it out to everybody in the
audience. It's kind of fun to do if you have a few minutes of downtime, about how we have
to break down our barriers and our assumptions to get to anything new.
>>Frans Johansson: Yeah. There's a number of ways. What I like to talk about there is
reversing assumptions. You almost go into any given situation with a certain number
of assumptions. You don't even necessarily know what they are. So you could -- for instance,
at one point everybody assumed that a search page would have to have the search bar and
then a ton of other stuff on there, like a link to horoscopes and all this stuff. And
if you say I'm going to reverse these things, what happens if I say there's going to be
virtually nothing on that page and you can create something like Google? What happens
if you reverse assumption that you can't see through cement? It means that you can see
through cement. And a company in Hungary did that. They placed little optical fibers throughout
the cement and it's an amazing innovation. But the point is you don't get there unless
you actually take those assumptions that you make and reverse them.
The only problem is it's hard to do. I'm sure you run into this all the time with the people
that you work with within the Media Lab that when they come to you there are certain things
that they can't actually see past and maybe you can do it because you haven't been involved
with the business. >>Joi Ito: A lot of it is about deprogramming.
I know the next speaker talks a lot about how -- because we have a lab called Lifelong
Kindergarten because kindergarten kind of works because people are free.
And I often do a poll that you ask people "How good were you at painting when you were
in kindergarten?" Everybody will say "I was like Picasso." And today people don't paint.
And you somehow start to self-limit yourself. And a lot of creativity -- in the old days
it was doing what you were told was kind of a survival trait in the industrial revolution.
Today when we are trying to innovate you want creativity, but creativity is stifled through
our process as long as we're aging. And what we try to do at the Media Lab is
try to strip away those barriers that you've created for yourself and for the companies
that work with us. So we have what we call completely undirected research where we don't
know the answer, we don't do that much directed grants.
Because a grant proposal is "Here's the answer I'm looking for, give me some money to get
it." So you can fundamentally figure it as you go along.
So if you have a critical mass of people who already have that passion, that helps. A lot
of it is completely changing the rules, but a lot of it is the reward system.
And we were -- some of the earlier presentations about focus, we cherish focus and execution,
but that just means you don't have peripheral vision anymore. And in your book you talk
about this a lot. You can't get lucky if you plan everything, and you need the luck.
>>Frans Johansson: That's the thing. I mean, when you go into a situation like that, you
are -- you almost want to feel that you're in control about the outcome.
The reason I'm spending days or weeks or months or money on this is because I want this particular
outcome, but the true breakthroughs are never logical. If they were logical everybody would
be doing them already. There's something serendipitous, something unexpected that brought you to that
place. And even I think if you realize that it would be hard to do because you still want
that -- it goes back to what Ariely was talking about that. You've taken that first step of
uncertainty is perhaps not -- you're not open for it because you know that -- you know that
this piece works and it gives you a certain amount of return. And as long as you can sort
of continue on that, great. >>Alison Stewart: How do you -- I'm sorry.
How do you handle a student, somebody creative who is very interested, but is hyperfocused,
has laser-like focus on one thing and how they want to study it? How do you challenge
that student? >>Joi Ito: So the focus and the searching
are really important, but you need both. So when you do mushroom hunting, you can't focus
or you will never see them. Because you only focus on one percent of the field of view
and you focus out and you get peripheral vision. But when you're driving the mushrooms home
you kind of have to focus on the road. So I think the ability to focus back between
left brain and right brain, whatever you want to call it, is really important. So it's not
important that focus is bad, but it's the ability to pull out that's really important.
But a lot of it is about teaching through doing. So the presentations in the books and
even fundamentally this mode, we study and we understand that we're no longer creative,
but to actually then become creative is a whole different thing. This is where it becomes
kind of spiritual. I was trying to learn to meditate with a yoga
teacher and he said, "Just don't think of elephants." And you just sit there and think
about elephants. So when you're with a big company saying to
innovate you've got to act, just don't think about the bottom line, and that's all they
think about. And it's really -- so a lot of business school
is about the study of business, which is really different from business.
And it's really -- and so a lot of business school is about the study of business, which
is really different from business; right? And so what's -- And so you need that combo.
And what we're trying to do at The Media Lab is, we're practice over theory. We really
shun scholarship. We're really about just try it. And if it
works, try to then figure out what's going on. Because in the act of trying it -- so
this focus -- you give them complete permission, you let them fail if they want to. But the
thing is you just let them go and do it. And then once they do it, then they'll stumble
and they would say, hey, there's something over here, something over there. If you sit
and try to give them permission or not, it doesn't work.
>>Alison Stewart: You're in academia and you have the safety net of academia. But in terms
of the real world and the business world, where the bottom line does matter, how can
people in this audience, who are bosses, who want to have innovation and creativity in
their companies and in their businesses, but do have to keep the bottom line in mind, how
can they foster exploration in their companies? >>Frans Johansson: Oftentimes, it comes down
to this sort of reverence for numbers; right? So if you go into -- just talking to an investment
bank last week. I'm talking, ROI, you should not focus on ROI. I tell them the story -- I
tell them lots of stories, but Google is one that I come back to, the fact that the founders
of Google after nine months were willing to sell Google to Yahoo! for a million bucks.
Yahoo! turned them down because of a somewhat flawed ROI analysis.
[ Laughter.] >>Frans Johansson: People say they were stupid.
Well, but in that case, so were the founders of Google, because they only valued Google
at a million bucks. The ROI piece is flawed. Well, that doesn't help, because the whole
world for somebody in an investment bank is around numbers. "Give me another number, then."
And the number that I sort of talk to -- Well, ask yourself, if you tried this and it didn't
work, are you still okay? Can you try it again? What about ten times? What about 20? What
about 30? So I think for companies that are used to
having structure in the way they operate and having a framework in how they analyze sort
of the return, you still need to sort of give them something to work with. But it needs
to be something else. It needs to be around what does it mean if it doesn't work? And
how many of those can I try? And that sort of is the way we sort of set
it up for clients. >>Alison Stewart: I know that you are of the
mind that if the telephone company had tried to invent the Internet, it would have taken
years and probably failed. I can't remember how you say it. What was your --
>>Joi Ito: I often say that -- well, the short version is, the cost of innovation has gone
nearly to zero. If you look at Yahoo!, Facebook, Google, they were -- they built the thing
before they really raised any money. And in the old days, you'd sit and plan for years
and years. So if the telephone company had tried to build
Google, it would have cost half a billion dollars, taken ten years, and wouldn't have
worked, because you can build first. And that's what's great about the Internet.
And as you lower the cost of innovation, to sort of riff on the business side, the most
money you will ever lose is money you invest. I do startup investing in Twitter and kick-starter
and others, invest in a lot of companies. My average investment is probably $100,000.
The most I will ever lose is $100,000. It's not a lot of money. But then if you try to
figure out what's going on, the time that we have been sitting here is probably worth
more than $100,000 every minute that's ticking. And so the -- if the cost of figuring out
whether to do something exceeds the cost of doing it, then don't think about it so much;
right? And I think that that's the problem, is that people still assume that the cost
of failure is huge, -- >>Frans Johansson: Exactly.
>>Joi Ito: -- when it's not. And most of the opportunities of all of those hundred thousand
dollar investments, a couple of them make asymmetrical returns. And what you're missing
is the opportunity to invest in these things because you're sitting around thinking about
it rather than doing it. >>Frans Johansson: What it raises, though,
is an interesting question. Because -- So that's exactly right.
The thing is, of course, then which opportunity should you pursue? Because if there's lots
of small ones, sort of the options begin to proliferate. And there's just -- it could
be dozens, or hundreds of thousands even, depending on where you're off sitting.
And, once again, sort of it comes down to selection criteria. And once again, you want
to feel this sort of attraction, like gravity, you're getting pulled into one. But which
will have the greatest impact for the smallest amount of investment? You go back to that
type of thinking or to even make the choice. And I know we talked about this before we
came on, and I know that Sir Ken is going to get to this, I'm guessing -- I don't know,
but I'm guessing -- is passion. Are you willing to -- Do you have the wherewithal to go through
the inevitable mistakes you're going to make as you embark upon this idea? If you have
that wherewithal, which is what I call passion, the reason, sort of almost an illogical reason,
to keep on pursuing, even though there seems to be some empirical evidence that says that
this doesn't work, "I'm still going to try it one more turn. One more twist. One more
pivot," that sort of becomes the more important selection criteria in those situations that
you're talking about. >>Joi Ito: And I realize this is sort of cliche
to say this, but it's true, which is, every failure is a discovery. And you don't actually
get that much data being right, because you're just, oh, I'm right. And, actually, reinforces
the rationalities that you have. But every failure that you do, you're collecting data.
If you think about the $100,000 failure that I do each time as an investment in my learning,
and I'm kind of stupid, I was really bad at school. Whenever people said, "Don't go there,"
I'd go there. And I would never learn anything until I actually failed at it myself. I didn't
read books about other people's failures. So if you can -- this is why it's good to
do it when you're young, because the cost of failure is cheaper when you're young. But
I think if you just turn the ROI around and think about it as an essential learning experience,
because you want to fail before your competitors do, so you want to figure out how to do that
before the cost of failure becomes really high.
>>Alison Stewart: Where does fear play into this?
>>Frans Johansson: You know, sometimes I hear -- and this is particularly true for large
organizations, but you see it all over, either people talking about their careers or -- "fear,"
you know, "fear is what holds us back." I'm not so sure that that is true. I think
that the way that a large company, for instance, would approach innovation tends to be -- well,
you know, here's an example. We tried something, and it -- you know, it was a $20 million project,
and it didn't work. And look what happened to the people that were involved with it.
They have a right to be afraid. Well, yeah. Well, it's $20 million. I mean,
if you screw up on that and the company's not willing to do multiple $20 million bets,
then it's going to have that kind of impact. But if you actually brought that down and
you said to somebody, "Look, you're going to get to try something. You'll -- It will
be maybe 100,000 at stake. If it doesn't work, your reputation really takes no hit," you're
going to find that almost across the board, employees and companies will find their risk
tolerance increasing dramatically. Okay, I mean, given those circumstances, I
will now try -- I'm willing to try it. In a recent conversation with a CEO, he was
telling me that he had spent $3 million asking his manager to come up with something interesting,
and she hadn't. What should he do, he said. Should -- And I told him, "Would you give
another three?" He said, "No, of course not. She screwed up."
Well, that's the problem. What you should have done is taken that 3, chopped it into
6 half a million dollar chunks, guaranteed all six, and now you're going to see the risk
tolerance go up. She would have been willing to take risks that she didn't actually know
was going to work when she started. So I'm not sure that people are -- that risk
is the -- is the great resistor of pushing innovation.
>>Joi Ito: But I do think that the fear of failure is a tremendous problem.
And just -- I was thinking about it when I was watching the Boston Dynamics. I used to
snowboard a lot. And when you first snowboard -- First of all, you will never learn to snowboard
by reading papers about snowboarding. But secondly, when you are snowboarding and
you are going through a really hard corner, the minute you visualize yourself falling
flat on your face, you do, because your body dynamics fail. And if you can visualize yourself
going through, sometimes you still fall flat on your face, but usually you make it through.
And it's really interesting when you are in those moments where you really need all the
body dynamics going how horribly debilitating and failure-prone fear is.
And it's the same with luck. If you think you're lucky, you're looking around through
peripheral vision. The minute you don't think you're lucky, you lose your focus and you
don't see the opportunities. So I do think that the psychological state of mind is a
really, really important one both in the probability of success and the ability to act.
>>Alison Stewart: Do you think innovators are born or can they be created? Explorers
and innovators? >>Frans Johansson: I definitely believe that
people can learn to innovate. The kindergarten stage that you're talking about may, because
of circumstances in life, because of choices we made, sort of becomes path-dependent, may
become squeezed and beaten out of us. But can we -- we can return to it.
And I think it is true that under certain contexts, we are more innovative than under
others. So maybe it's so that some people have retained
it more easily than others, fair enough. But I think it's true that across the board, each
and every one of us can increase that ability. >>Joi Ito: I definitely think that it's the
environment. But, like, if you look at the number of dyslexic CEOs is very high.
I was terrible at school because I wasn't a good reader. My sister was a straight A
student, double Ph.D., magna cum laude, Harvard, Stanford, blah, blah, blah.
I'm a failure; right? But now she's having to learn to innovate.
I know how to innovate and I am trying to learn how to educate. I think the people who
are challenged very early tend to have to figure out their own cognitive models. And
the thing is that when you have to figure out your own cognitive model, it becomes much
more flexible, because education is what somebody does to you, and learning is what you do to
yourself. And when you do it yourself, you become somewhat
-- just you don't create these structures that educate does. I think education is the
worst possible thing that you can do to somebody if you want them to be innovative.
[ Laughter ] >>Alison Stewart: I wish we had another 20
minutes after that. [ Applause. ]
>>Alison Stewart: In our last minutes, can you give our audience a takeaway? Something
that they can take away back home that they can use in a small meeting, use in a big meeting,
use personally to help them become or tap into their inner explorer or their inner innovator.
>>Frans Johansson: Well, I would say this: Whatever you are pursuing, whatever challenge
or opportunities you're looking at, you are probably wrong about what you think is going
to be happening, what the right answer is. That doesn't mean that you can't act. It just
means that when -- once you get started, reality will show you the way through. It's sort of
-- through its answer. And you're going to discover the solution by executing. So, ultimately,
the takeaway is, act as if -- act as if you're actually going to be wrong, and that means
be willing to explore. I think that's very liberating.
>>Joi Ito: Mine is actually kind of similar. I actually had the opportunity to speak after
a futurist recently, who was very smart. So then I kind of threw the ball in and said,
"Well, I don't believe in futurists. I believe in nowists, because the future is usually
wrong and your plans are usually wrong, so it's much better to focus on what you're doing
now and be resilient and able to react. And the -- everything that's an asset -- lines
of code, intellectual property, people, money -- those are all liabilities to agility; right?
So I think what's really important right now is to be ready for anything. And it definitely
ties into what you're talking about. And it really is sort of assuming that you're going
to be wrong about everything. And it's a pretty liberating feeling.
>>Frans Johansson: Yeah. >>Alison Stewart: We're liberated.
You have a plane to catch. You have a book signing.
Thank you so much. >>Joi Ito: Thank you.
[ Applause. ]