Saturday, November 15, 2014

Addressing the present, planning for the future

Let's assume Mr. Ito, with his ideas on innovation and being a "now-ist" is on to something. Let's assume that hackerspace and bottom-up innovation becomes a more commmonplace thing. There are pros and cons, of course, to looking past the more traditional model of planning, building prototypes, etc. and simply building what seems to solve the immediate problem.

Mr. Ito offers the example of the kids who build some cellphones, manufacture a few thousand, and go see what sells, then return to their manufacturing space to make some changes, build a few more thousand, etc. Sure, that works for those kids, but is it scalable? I don't know, but I do know that large global organizations not only constantly look for ways to improve their processes, but require scalability. And, depending on the product, they require safety and security on a number of levels.

I'm impressed with the "citizen scientist" concept and what he and others were able to do as a result of their concern about and their interest in the 2011 Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant crisis. Yes, the Internet has made many things possible. Amazing things possible.

Yes, because of the Internet and an abundance of technology as well as curiosity about "what if. . .?", kids are creating wondrous things in their dorm rooms and their rooms at home (high schoolers are in on this, too) and entrepreneurs and discoverers in shared spaces, such as 1871 in Chicago, are doing amazing things.

But then there is the "so what?" Is that something that anyone else will care about? What kind of difference can and should and will it make and in what capacity and for whom and why? Is the idea or the product or the service scalable or will it be a niche market that might grow over time when the time is right or better?

I agree that there is some value in taking an agile programming approach to some things, but even with agile programming there are stopgaps or backstops to help with the decision-making. And lest we forget, agile programming came about because programmers believed the older methodologies were less efficient. (Check out the Manifesto for Agile Software Development for some history, but also Agile Programming and a reflection on the impact of Agile 10 years after the Manifesto.) As a former programmer, I understand the importance of finding better and more efficient ways of doing things. If you read the reflection article, you'll see that there are different paths for agile programming which remind us that not only are there different ways to implement good ideas and processes, but that implementation is mostly dependent on what matters most. So, once again, beginning with the end in mind.

After all of that, the statement that really made me sit up and take notice is "learning over education" and that "Education is what people do to you and learning is what you do to yourself." Wikipedia might not have been a great example resource nor the somewhat condescending statements about educators and their expectations. Dude needs to be in a few more classrooms, maybe even at that university attached to his lab.

Should we be "now-ists"? Sure. We need to be in and aware of the present. The work we are doing now, whether in schools or manufacturing spaces, is for the present but it also for the future. And that future might be a few years or decades. We should, on occasion, do more than glance at the past because we can learn from past mistakes and successes.

I believe there is danger is not thinking about the possibilities of the future, about unintended consequences. I believe there is significant danger in not finding balance between the present and the future, and not overcomplicating our thinking and our progress by wading too deeply into the past. I think we need to be "now-turists" as we address the present and design an architecture, framework, or plan for the future, recognizing the future will be influenced by what we do now and might not be as we imagine it.

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