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.