Most peo­ple I know tell me that there was at least one per­son in their lives who changed their per­spec­tive, opened their eyes or became unfor­get­table per­son­al­i­ties. I find this also applies to peo­ple whom you “meet” via news sto­ries, record­ings or Inter­net blogs. Joi Ito has been one of those peo­ple for me. I have fol­lowed his work for years, but I am grate­ful to Tet­suhiko Endo who recent­ly pro­filed Ito in “Think with Google”. Now, I feel I know him even bet­ter. Ito is, for me, the heart­beat of MIT’s Media Lab. What’s that? Endo sum­maris­es it nicely:

Found­ed in 1985, the MIT Media Lab has estab­lished itself as one of the world’s most influ­en­tial tech­nol­o­gy incu­ba­tors — home to a mot­ley col­lec­tion of sci­en­tists, engi­neers, design­ers, and artists. From Gui­tar Hero to LEGO Mind­storms; E Ink to glance­able infor­ma­tion dis­plays, they have trans­formed the Lab into a fac­to­ry of inno­va­tion. Over­see­ing it all is entre­pre­neur and ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist Joi Ito….”

Endo’s arti­cle is titled “Joi Ito’s Trends to Watch in 2013”, and it’s a quick and excit­ing read. Rather than give you the high­lights, let me give you the take­aways that keep bang­ing around in my mind since I read the piece a few days ago.

  • On the Inter­net: Used to be that to be an inno­va­tor of con­se­quence, you need­ed lots of cap­i­tal, an immense lab­o­ra­to­ry and, well, genius. Ito helped me realise that the Inter­net makes it pos­si­ble for every­one to join the road to inno­va­tion. It is no longer the sacred ground of the well-resourced incumbents.
  • On sci­ence fic­tion: You don’t have to be a senior cit­i­zen who recalls read­ing the Dick Tra­cy com­ic strips to know that Chester Gould – and this was back in the 1930s! – gift­ed Tra­cy with his famous wrist watch that was the iPhone of its time. I’m extrap­o­lat­ing from the arti­cle here, but Ito makes it clear that sci fi and real­i­ty are clos­ing in on one anoth­er every day. The arti­cle lists star­tups that demon­strate this point. 

    Dick Tracy stamp

    Back to the future?

  • On the Media Lab itself: I love the quote from Ito at the end of the arti­cle: “This goes back to our pol­i­cy for the Media Lab — we require fac­ul­ty mem­bers to be anti-dis­ci­pli­nary. If you can do what you want to do in any field that already exists, you don’t belong at the Lab. What I’m search­ing for are peo­ple and things that don’t fit any­where: The mis­fits of soci­ety.” This seems to be more than just a salute to diver­si­ty. Ito has proven that the rich­ness of mix­ing an eclec­tic set of actors (engi­neers, sci­en­tists, artists and design­ers) into one space sets the stage for gen­er­a­tive learn­ing by allow­ing the ideas and points of view of oth­ers to col­lide, often with many fruits.
  • On you – yes YOU: Since peo­ple who steer the world (and its soci­eties and organ­i­sa­tions) to what’s next are crit­i­cal, it mat­ters who’s in and who’s out of the con­ver­sa­tion. Just by pub­lish­ing blogs like the one about Ito means that Google is engaged in the “next” con­ver­sa­tion. But what about bankers and store man­agers and librar­i­ans and, well, what about you and your enter­prise? How does your enter­prise par­tic­i­pate? How do you participate?

If you have spent your entire life try­ing to “fit in” and yet you yearn to be a leader, maybe you should read about Joi Ito as soon as you can.

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