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  • 1. Presentation notes with links and citationsSee also the powerpoint and video versions of this presentation Michael Edson Director, Web and New Media Strategy Smithsonian Institution, Office of the CIO Washington, D.C. Version 1.0 September 2011 [Updated April 6, 2012] 1
  • 2. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012[NOTE: Im not really following any particular style guide for citations and links—just winging it, mostly to make the ideas more shareable. M.P.E 9/23/2011]“Come, let us go boldly into the present, my brothers and sisters.”A little preamble. I tweet at @mpedson.This deck will soon be on slideshare along with a directory—a bestiary—of everyother idea Ive thought of and worked on in the last few years at of you are familiar with the work weve been doing with the SmithsonianCommons and the Smithsonian Commons prototype, and all that is online at thistrailhead:, and on the public wiki on whichwe created and continue to refine the Smithsonian’s Web and New Media Strategy, that Im not a policy maker at the Smithsonian. Im not an official 1
  • 3. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012spokesperson. I don’t have a budget or a staff. I have a business card that saysDirector of Web and New Media Strategy. You are all duly warned—Im not anofficial spokesperson of the Smithsonian Institution or its wholly ownedsubsidiaries.[slide sequence, excerpt from William Gibson’s “Zero History.”]A reading…“But now he saw, however briefly but with peculiar clarity, an aerial penguin crossthe intersection ahead of him."Something wholly penguin-shaped, apparently four or five feet long, from beak-tipto trailing feet, and made, it seemed, of mercury. A penguin wrapped in fluid mirror,reflecting a bit of neon from the street below. Swimming. Moving as a penguinmoves underwater, but through the Latin Quarter air, at just above the height ofsecond-story windows. Moving down the center of the street that crossed the one hewalked on. So that it was revealed only as it crossed the intersection. Swimming.Propelling itself, in a gracefully determined but efficient fashion, with its quicksilverflippers. Then a bicycle crossed, on the street, going in the opposite direction.“Did you see that?” Milgrim asked the cyclist… 2
  • 4. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012This spring I was asked to give a talk as part of a lecture series at the CincinnatiContemporary Arts Center. The series was titled "Where do we go from here?" and Ithought that to do any justice to that idea of where you go from here you first had toget down and think about where "here" was to begin with. And I think "here" isntwhere it used to be. Where is here?If you lived in Southern Europe 32,000 years ago you might have made paintingslike this. These paintings were made during a period of artistic and culturalcontinuity that probably lasted 25,000 years. 1,000 generations. Imagine that.Imagine being 10,000 years into that. You could look forward to another 15,000years of relatively unchanging "here." [See Judith Thurmans Letter from SouthernFrance: First Impressions: What does the worlds oldest art say about us? The New 3
  • 5. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012Yorker, June 28, 2008.]Contrast this with what Sir Ted Robinson had to say at the summary keynote of theTED conference about our current, fleeting notion of "here.""…Education is meant to take us into this future that we cant grasp. If you think ofit, children starting school this year [2006] will be retiring in 2065. Nobody has aclue, despite all the expertise thats been on parade over the last 4 days, what theworld will look like in 5 years time, and yet were meant to be educating them for it.So the unpredictability, I think, is extraordinary. "["Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity", filmedFebruary 2006.]And then, in "where do we go from here," theres that word go. What is go all about?I think go is all about the future—and what is the future but a bunch of stuff thathasnt happened yet? …The future is stuff that hasnt happened yet…Or is it? (Thatsthe question I want to bear down on today, and I want to think about what it meansfor us.) 4
  • 6. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012This "here" and "go" stuff isnt just idle philosophy. Understanding here and goreally matters.Ive been doing digital strategy for a few years now and I used to think that it wasthe strategists job, his or her function, to be a seer—a fortune teller who throughmagical powers and privileged knowledge could rub a crystal ball and tell a storyabout how the future would turn out that could help organizations, businesses,museums, libraries, archives, government—know what to do, now, so that thefuture would turn out in a happy way for them.Somewhere I heard the expression that "software is language that does work." (I’vebeen looking for a citation for this on and off for months. If anybody can help metrack down the person who originally said this I’m offering a bounty.) Its reallytrue! If youve ever written software its almost magical: you type the right words onyour computer and hit "enter" and the code runs and your database grows, websiteslaunch, the flaps on an airplane wing go up and down. Its an amazing feeling.I feel the same way about strategy—strategy is language that does work. Its a toolthat people use to decide what to do, and what not to do, every day. Strategy shouldtell a story about life, about work, and about the world around us. Strategy shouldhelp people understand the world theyre in and where it’s headed. Strategy shouldhelp people develop a narrative about change, and create compelling mental imagesthat help prioritize tactical opportunities. Strategy is all about relevance to realpeople doing real work. So this pensive reflection about where go and here are is notnavel gazing or pointless philosophy—its directly relevant to the task at hand, thetask of helping people and organizations do their jobs. 5
  • 7. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012This was 1997. I knew that the future was going to be different because the day-to-day technology experience of the present was only partly formed. It was kind ofcrappy.This is a stack of U.S. Robotics dial-up modems, circa 1997. Thats the way half thepeople in the US who were online got online in 1997.1Remember that? Remember the floppy disks that sometimes came with thosemodems? That was a horrible experience. And I knew that the future, somewheredown the road, would have to be different because accessing the Internet through a1997 dial-up modem was so unfulfilling.As an aside, Ive noticed a pattern in presentations where technology people talkabout the future…Usually a wise person is standing on the stage and they show aslide with a date at the top and a T.F.O. at the bottom of the slide—a Technology 6
  • 8. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012Fetish Object. So the date is some number of years ago and the T.F.O. is kids sittingaround watching a black-and-white television or using 8-track tape players, or someother piece of technology from our youth that has comically aged in the past 10 or20 years…Heres another date and T.F.O. combination.This was the first digital camera I ever used, a Quicktake 200 from Apple.2 Anybodyhere ever own one of these things? What a nightmare. With all due respect to whatmust have been some remarkable engineering for the time, as a user—you hoped—you prayed on bended knee that the future would turn out differently because thiswas such a monstrosity—such a kludge of the physical laws of nature. I used thatone too on the right—an earlier model with no way to manually focus, zoom, orpreview images. It stored eight photos at 640x480. Im going to break out in hivesjust thinking about this era of digital photography. 7
  • 9. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012Heres 1997 Geocities. It was awesome in its own way, I could create my ownpersonal website—but didnt we hope it would get better? If you used it then,couldnt you sense that it would, should, and could get better?Windows 97. I still, to this day, feel naked unless I have a DOS boot disk in my bag asa security blanket so I know I can boot a Windows 97 machine if the OS getscorrupted.Remember this? The dreaded Blue Screen of Death. If you used Windows 97, everyonce in a while your screen would go blank and then turn into this dump of memoryaddresses and useless error codes, then youd have to reboot and hope it didnthappen again. Good times! 8
  • 10. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012[Brief digression on the Blue Screen of Death, for the sake of nostalgia and comicrelief. See BSOD gallery at ]But the general idea here is that in 1997, when we were thinking about digitalstrategy, digital preservation, technology—how to do the right thing the next day wecame to work—the future seemed a long way away. We knew it would come, but itfelt distant and abstract. There was a gap there, between the present and the future, 9
  • 11. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012and the tool we used in business and government and organizations to span that gapwas called strategy.In the last year or two Ive participated in lot of digital strategy planningworkshops—some for household brands and cultural institutions that everyone hasheard of and some for small, obscure groups. And the question that is invariablybeing asked in these workshops is how are we going to figure out the future?Theres a kabuki like form that these workshops often take.Theres usually a Big Conference Room. This picture is not a workshop I was at, itssomething I grabbed off of Flickr—but this, the body language and the furnishingsand attire and accoutrements, represents the archetype. Theres a room, and a guyor gal at the front of the room, and whiteboards and projectors and sometimes thosemega sized post-it notes. And the body language is usually the person standing atthe front waving their arms around going "Blah! Blah! Blah! Digital strategy! Future!Blah! Blah! Blah! Its 2012! Weve got to do more…" and they invoke the name of theflavor of the week—the Strategy Fetish Object, or S.F.O. It might be a blog, Twitter orFacebook accounts, crowdsourcing, a mobile app.Usually the conversation is focused on the superficial aspects of these disruptivethings. One or two people in the room are thinking about the deep significance—the 10
  • 12. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012challenges to established priorities and values that the S.F.Os represent, buteveryone else around the room is translating the conversation into the broadcastidiom. Broadcast. Broadcast. Broadcast.Broadcast. Push. We do stuff and we use the Internet to deliver it with increasingvolume at a passive and grateful audience—or an audience that is only superficiallyinvolved in any meaningful way—just like the 20th century. And wasnt that great?We did a lot of great stuff in the 20th century.So the digital strategy people are saying "Future! Future!" and the people around thetable are saying "Yeah, we get it. Broadcast but cheaper and with a biggermegaphone." Broadcast. Broadcast. Broadcast. The water bottles on the tables areeven saying broadcast. The water bottles—and here Im getting to the crux of it—the water bottles are translating what weve got to do today into the organizationalphysics of the last epoch. Were downsampling the message into a familiar idiom,and because of that the real opportunities available to us in the present moment areslipping away.Let me give you a specific example. 11
  • 13. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012This is from a strategy workshop I participated in at a major museum in theNorthern hemisphere last year. (Dont try to guess what museum this is from—youll get it wrong!)This is the mission of the museum:"Become the preeminent place for engagement and dialogue about national identityand the accomplishment and experience of citizens."Thats a great mission—a great vision!At the workshop, one of the initiatives proposed to fulfill that mission was,"Build an online collection of 10 million portraits of citizens and their stories,created and uploaded without official curation by members of the public. Build a 12
  • 14. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012community around this initiative to fuel engagement with national history,biography, and artistic creativity."Thats a pretty strong and compelling project!After 90 minutes of meeting in a room like the conference room I showed a fewslides back, brainstorming together and working with post-it notes and on whiteboards, this was the project that was eventually adopted: "Do a website about familyportraits."This is indicative of whats happening in that strategy room, all over the world, againand again and again.And we should know better. If youve been paying attention the last ten years or so,what you need to know now to solve the problem—the disconnect—thatshappening in these strategy workshops has been broadly known and written about.Its been an open secret.Five to ten years ago, Howard Rheingold, Lawrence Lessig, Tim OReilly, DonTapscott and Anthony Williams, and even the editors of Time Magazine observedthe world around us and told us true things about what was happening. 13
  • 15. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012Smart MobsHoward Rheingolds Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution was printed and puton bookstore shelves in 2002. Ive been re-reading it, carrying it around in my bag,on-and-off, for years, and Rheingold nailed it. He nailed the moment were in now, 9years ago—actually 11 years ago. He talks about collective action without centralauthority, crowdsourcing, the rise of cheap and ubiquitous mobile platforms, theglobal knowledge commons, the fact that most of the world will interact with theWorld Wide Web through a mobile device—all very firmly established a decade ago.The introduction to Smart Mobs, titled "How to recognize the future when it landson you," begins,"The first signs of the next shift began to reveal themselves to me on a springafternoon in the year 2000. That was when I began to notice people on the streets ofTokyo staring at their mobile phones instead of talking to them. The sight of thisbehavior, now commonplace in much of the world, triggered a sensation I hadexperienced a few times before—the instant recognition that a technology is goingto change my life in ways I can scarcely imagine." 14
  • 16. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012[Rheingold, Howard. Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, Cambridge, MA.Perseus. 2002. Page xi]The Future of IdeasLawrence Lessigs The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a ConnectedWorld also was published in 2002. Im going to read a brief quote, and as I do keepin mind that this is two years before Facebook was founded and four years beforeTwitter launched."The open and neutral platform of the Internet has spurred hundreds of companiesto develop new ways for individuals to interact. E-mail was the start; but most of themessages that now build contact are the flashes of chat in groups or betweenindividuals—as spouses (and others) live at separate places of work with a singlewindow open to each other through an instant messenger. Groups form easily todiscuss any issue imaginable; public debate is enabled by removing perhaps themost significant cost of human interaction— synchronicity. I can add to yourconversation tonight; you can follow it up tomorrow; someone else, the day after.And this is just the beginning, as the technology will only get better."[Lessig, Lawrence, The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a ConnectedWorld Random House, NY 2002. P. 10] 15
  • 17. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012What is Web 2.0?Tim OReilly wrote "What is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for theNext Generation of Software" in 2005. Ive carried around a dozen of copies of itover the years. Ive put it on every laptop and mobile device Ive ever owned. Ivehanded it out to people on the street and begged them to read it. Many people whoshould have read it, havent, and many who have havent shown that theyve thoughthard enough about the central assertions of the 2.0 design pattern that Tim OReillylaid out six years ago,1. The long tail2. Data is the next Intel Inside3. Users add value4. Network effects by default5. Some rights reserved6. The perpetual beta7. Cooperate, dont control8. Software above the level of a single deviceThese ideas—these assertions about what is and isnt important were not formed in 16
  • 18. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/20122005 in an isolated act of intellectual prowess. They came through brainstormingand reflection and practical knowledge of the things that worked and didnt workfollowing the crash of the dot-com bubble in 2001.[Tim OReilly, What is Web 2.0? September 30, 2005. Accessed7/21/2011]WikinomicsFrom "Wikinomics" by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, first published in"Smart companies are encouraging, rather than fighting, the heaving growth ofmassive online communities—many of which emerged from the fringes of the Webto attract tens of millions of participants overnight. Even ardent competitors arecollaborating on path-vreaking scientific initiatives that accelerate discovery in theirindustries. Indeed as a growing number of firms see the benefits of masscollaboration, this new way of organizing will eventually displace the traditionalcorporate structures as the economys primary engine of wealth creation."[Tapscott, Don and Williams, Anthony D. Wikinomics. USA: Penguin, 2006. page 1] 17
  • 19. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012"You" were Time Magazines person of the year in 2006.Doesnt that seem like a long time ago? The cover said,"December 25, 2006. Person of the Year. You. Yes, you. You control the InformationAge. Welcome to your world."An excerpt from the article demonstrates that Times writers understood just howmuch the tables had turned from broadcast to co-authorship and co-ownership ofproduction—back in 2006!“And we [by which they mean the collective we, all of us] didn’t just watch, we alsoworked. Like crazy. We made Facebook profiles and Second Life avatars andreviewed books at Amazon and recorded podcasts. We blogged about ourcandidates losing and wrote songs about getting dumped. We camcorderedbombing runs and built open-source software.”I remember seeing that issue on the newsstand and thinking "Yes, change will geteasier now that Time has validated these ideas." 18
  • 20. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012Theres a new sheriff in town. Or new sheriffs, plural. And, actually, my whole pointis that theyre not that new. Theyre old, and we should be able to recognize themand act upon them by now.1. The Long Tail. Chris Andersons assertions about the immense power of digitallyconnected niche audiences.2. Joys Law—Bill Joy was the co-founder of Sun Microsystems and he famouslyquipped that "no matter what business youre in, most of the smart people work forsomeone else." 33. Cognitive SurplusCognitive Surplus—this is a new book by Clay Shirky, [Shirky, Clay, CognitiveSurplus: Creativity and Generosity in the Digital Age, Penguin, 2010] but Clay has amagical way of recognizing established phenomena in the world around us andweaving them together into new ideas about whats really happening. Clay says"Imagine treating the time of the worlds educated citizenry as an aggregate, a kindof cognitive surplus." [Kindle edition, location 146] What could we do? Clay assertsthat there are a trillion hours of free time in the educated, Internet connected worldthat can be harnessed for societal good. This idea got my attention right away as an 19
  • 21. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012employee of an organization whose mission is "the increase and diffusion ofknowledge." (Clay notes that as a point-of-reference American watch over twohundred billion hours of TV annually - - enough human thought-hours to create twothousand complete Wikipedias, every year. [Kindle edition, location 175]Network Effects—I cant talk enough about network effects. Ive had those twowords written on the whiteboard in my office for years. Tim OReilly laid it out forme in 2005 and Im still learning how to explain it to people.Moores Law, which addresses the increase in the number of transistors you can fitonto a silicon chip and therefore the accelerating speed and memory (and fallingcosts) of computers. Acceleration means compounding increases of speed andstorage. If Ive done my math correctly, in 12 years the iPhone will probably be1,706 times more powerful than the computer Im using today to show these slides.Thats a supercomputer in your pocket for a couple of hundred bucks, Internetconnected, and loaded with all kinds of cheap and interesting sensors: cameras,thermometers, accelerometers, altimeters, GPS. And 12 years is nothing, no time atall. Ive got bottles of wine in my fridge that have been there for 12 years. 12 yearswill go by in a flash and most of us arent thinking hard enough about the impactthat these mobile devices will have. (The last 12 years sure went by in a flash.)Kathy Sierra, a hero of mine, has been telling people that in the old epoch, therelationship between brands or organizations and the public was follow me, buy myproduct, because Im great. Now, she says, the proposition is follow me, buy myproduct because I help you to be great. Kathy tweeted "Im your user. Im supposedto be the protagonist. Im on a heros journey. Your company should be thementor/helpful sidekick. Not an orc." [@kathysierra, November 5, 2009. SierrasWeb site is Creating Passionate Users, ] 20
  • 22. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012These are not terribly new ideas. Not if youve been paying attention the last fewyears.Note this interview with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales about theAssociated Presss new website strategy. The strategy, called “Protect, Point, Pay,"describes how AP is going to compete with Wikipedia as “a focal point for discoveryof authoritative sources of news.” [Jimmy Wales; APs Landing Pages a good, if Late,Idea, Steve Myers, published 11/15/2011, 7/21/2011]Wales says,"Nothing in this strategy couldnt have been written by someone actually savvy inInternet culture 5 years ago."Ouch.So 5 years ago, looking at that list I just pulled out, we knew stuff pretty firmly aboutthe physics of organizations, the physics of creating value in society, that most of our 21
  • 23. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012organizations havent actualized yet. Weve been cautious bystanders to a certaindegree.And around the time I was working on the "Where do we go from here?" talk andthinking about "now" and the disconnect between the now weve know about foryears and the so-called future, and I came across an interview with William Gibson,the author of Zero History—the source of the flying penguin passage that I read afew minutes ago.Gibson said,"I think that when I was first reading science fiction, which would have been in thelate 1950’s, the consensual now was 3 or 4 years long, and with 3 or 4 years ofrelatively unchanging now a writer of science fiction had the space in which toerect something..."Gibson continues,"With that long a ‘now’ you could build a relatively big structure before that nowhauled itself into the future that made your big structure obsolete. But today, nowcan feel like a news cycle. It’s like the now is too narrow to allow for that big a 22
  • 24. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012construct. We have too many wildcards in play with regard to our future to casuallyerect believable futures beyond a few years."[ Transcribed from the blog post "Audio from last nights live event with WilliamGibson and Cory." Cory Doctorow, 10/5/2011,, accessed7/21/2011. Another important perspective on Gibsons relationship with now isNetwork Realism: William Gibson and new forms of Fiction, 10/25/2010, JamesBridle,, accessed 7/21/2011]The penguins are real.Poking around a little more I found out that the penguins are real. 23
  • 25. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012[video: Festo – AirPenguin,]So the science fiction penguins, the world-building that I got seduced by throughWilliam Gibsons Zero History, is real. Its not science fiction. Its real, now.The flying penguins are a metaphor for all this change that has arrived, from thefuture, into the present, without most of us noticing.These futures that our visionaries thought about and wrote books about years ago(which, given publishing lead times really means that in many cases these ideaswere developed years before the publication dates) are real now.A few years ago organizations were wringing their hands about participating in siteslike Facebook and YouTube and Twitter—"Will it dilute the brand? Isnt it just abunch of people sharing pictures of their cats?" Are we really still in doubt about thebusiness value of these sites now? No.This future that were supposed to be planning for and gradually, slowly, positioningfor is now. The distance between now and the future has compressed to almostnothing. Its as if a big part of the future has broken off of the rest of the future, likean iceberg, and crashed into us. 24
  • 26. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012And for most of our organizations, the future doesnt matter as much as it once did.Most of us have been slow out of the blocks. And theres so much business value—and I use business with a lower case "b"—theres so much value, shared value, to behad just by following the dynamics and basic physics of digital culture now that Ijust don’t think our organizations need to be having terribly lofty ideas about thefuture. This notional future. Its really just opening our eyes and looking at whatshappening all around us in the present. And to paraphrase William Gibson, thepresent is far more interesting—far more interesting—than most of ourorganizations have noticed. [In the interview cited above, Gibson talks about howinteresting the present is and how "most writers havent noticed yet."]So, really, the call to action is not lofty ideas about the future, it’s Come, Let Us GoBoldly Into the Present. 25
  • 27. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012I’m probably on this stage because of the work we’ve done—me with many of mycolleagues across the Institution, some of you in this room and others outside theSmithsonian—on what the “increase and diffusion of knowledge” (the Smithsonian’smission—the mission of the world’s largest museum and research complex) meansin the digital age. We created—we called into being a digital strategy that many ofyou have read and it says sensible things about what we should do now. It has threethemes, eight goals, and 54 concrete, plain English tactical recommendations. Youcan read it in about 20 minutes on the public wiki that was the platform for thestrategy creation process and on which the strategy continues to live and breathe.We positioned something called the Smithsonian Commons as the centerpiece of thestrategy. We describe the Smithsonian Commons as a new part of our digitalpresence (not just “website”—‘digital presence’) dedicated to stimulating learning,creation, and innovation (not just doing it ourselves, but creating a platform, thepreconditions, that help other people get it done) through open access toSmithsonian research, collections, communities, and expertise (not just research,not just collections. Not just communities. Not just expertise, but all of thesethings—together).And all those things are lovely and great. 26
  • 28. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012And now we’re trying to figure out how to make them happen…now.How do we realize these goals? It’s still the right strategy, even though it’s a coupleof years old. It’s the right set of ideas.And here’s where the rubber (of this talk) hits the road.[Updated 5 patterns slides]Here’s what I’ve noticed—here’s the design pattern I’ve observed—the things thathelp me think, in a practical way, about how our organizations can take advantage ofthis amazing present moment.[To-Do - - work in XP, agile thinking about doing stuff now and doing stuff thatmatters]And youll notice that among these patterns is not, innovate. Please stopinnovating—I beg you. Im not talking about failing fast, risk taking, or collaboration.I think many of these words are used as tokens for something else—somethingdeeper and more profound that we often dont get around to discussing orunderstanding at sufficient depth. And the cart is often put before the horse: inputs 27
  • 29. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012are confused with outputs. We shouldnt wake up in the morning and say "weve gotto innovate more." We should wake up in the morning and commit ourselves totrying to accomplish some tangible good in society. Some goal. Some win. And weshould measure our progress towards those goals every single day. If we find weneed more innovation, collaboration, risk taking or failure to meet those goals thenwe should by any and all means remove obstacles to those things happening, butthey are not goals in and of themselves. We dont innovate for innovations sake: weinnovate to accomplish meaningful goals.[As a point-of-reference, see Forget Innovation, a report from the Finnish innovationfund Sitra:]Pattern 1, The extraterrestrial space auditor.Don’t ask me what this image is all about. I found it through a Flickr search on“extraterrestrial.”I’ve found it very helpful over the last couple of years to invoke the image—theconstruct—of an extraterrestrial space auditor. Imagine that a whirring, buzzing,hovering spaceship comes down through the atmosphere and out comes an alien. Akind of Martian CPA ninja. And the job of this extraterrestrial space auditor is to 28
  • 30. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012compare the mission of your organization, your business, your agency, with yourcollective actions—what you’re doing. What you’re doing now. Are you using thebest tools and methods to accomplish your mission. Are you doing it—whatever “it”is—now?The extraterrestrial space auditor is objective. He/she/it doesn’t care about yourorganizations legacy commitments, your history, your funding woes or HR problemsor, frankly, any complaints or excuses. They don’t have to get along with anybody,they’re from out of town—waayyyy out of town—and they’re not going to come toyour staff picnic or schmooze with your CEO. They are a baddass of objectivity.And this image is a way of tricking yourself into thinking clearly about what you’redoing. (I started my adult life as a visual artist, and I always found the hardest partof being an artist was getting rid of my own preconceptions and biases when Iwalked up to a canvas.)Scott Berkun, in the Myths of Innovation (OReilly Media, 2010), notes that theBritish navy, "at the peak of their dominance in the 17th century," took 150 years toadopt a proven remedy for scurvy [p. 57]. The extraterrestrial space auditor wouldhave noticed the generations of stricken sailors and called the Admiralty on it.At random, on a whim, I looked up the mission of the Ford Foundation. The missionof the Ford Foundation is: “The Ford Foundation supports visionary leaders andorganizations on the frontlines of social change worldwide.” [Ford FoundationMission., accessed 7/20/2011]Awesome mission. Extraterrestrial space auditor says “Wow, that’s an awesomemission. Let’s take a look.” 29
  • 31. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012Show me your books.Show me your business processes.Let me talk with your staff.Let me talk with your audiences.Let me see what kinds of meetings you have. Where do you spend your time? Howdo you measure your effort towards these lofty goals? What gets in the way? Who doyou serve? Who don’t you serve?What resources does the Ford Foundation have at its disposal?Who are the visionary leaders? Where do they work? Are they worldwide? What dothey do? How are they helped?Not "how does grant program X work" but "are you using the best tools on theplanet to support visionary leaders and organizations on the frontlines of socialchange worldwide."So without the baggage of the last epoch, are you exhibiting the kinds of behaviorone would expect to see from an organization with your mission? Are you still, only,broadcasting?Are you printing new copies of Encyclopedia Britannica when you should be addingarticles to Wikipedia?Last year, Marc Andreessen told old media companies that they needed to burn theirboats—they needed to commit totally to a digital future rather than clinging tolegacy business assumptions. [Andreessens Advice To Old Media: "Burn The Boats."By Erik Schonfeld, Tech Crunch, 3/6/2010 ] 30
  • 32. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/20122. On ramps and loading docks.These days I think more about infrastructure and execution in terms of on rampsand loading docks: ways to get people and resources in and out of organizations. Itsnot that I think basic, traditional IT execution isnt important, I just think theres alot of untapped opportunity in thinking a little differently about it.Digitization pioneer and map collector David Rumsy once advised a museum I wasworking for to (and I paraphrase) “do what you can, and really do it, but understandthat you’re never going to be able to do everything yourself”—no matter how big orpowerful your organization is—and the trick is to enlist the help of others to createoutcomes you all care about. As we talked about earlier, this idea has been on thetable for a while.Imagine a highway with one entrance and one exit. Its an expressway, very good formoving people and goods from point A to point B efficiently—but only good for that,and nothing else. Imagine a huge factory built in a concrete bunker with only oneentrance and exit for people (employees only) and one loading dock for materials.Very secure and controllable, but with obvious challenges to scale and versatility.This is the way a lot of our IT services are created, and its the typical of the way thatmost organizations think about IT and New Media. 31
  • 33. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012Tim OReilly said that "A platform beats an application anytime," [See What is Web2.0 at] and in relation to the On Rampsand Loading Docks design pattern its important to think expansively about whatconstitutes a platform. On ramps and loading docks are about investing in thefoundations of a strong network, in the broadest sense of the word, rather than thecapacity to crank out more widgets. Its about making sure you have enough desksfor interns and volunteers, that theres sufficient training, that standards andleadership are in place to work with new kinds of partners. That people are listeningto audiences and customers and doing things they need and care about. Aboutbuilding the capacity to move ideas and goods between the organization and itscustomers, partners, or beneficiaries quickly, knowingly, and efficiently. Itsread/write across the corporation.3. Edge to Core 32
  • 34. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012The Smithsonian Web and New Media Strategy explicitly says that we’re in an edgeinnovation environment—it’s like the prime directive of the strategy.4 The strategysays that the best work happens when you have the public (from third graders toNobel laureates), collections or research data, subject matter experts, and somedegree of technology/production expertise close together. And that doesn’t happenin administrative offices, it happens at the edges of the Institution. Think about aborder habitat. Border habitats—boundaries or edges between ecosystems are veryproductive places.But, just letting a thousand wildflowers bloom in the wilderness is not enough. Edgeto core is the process by which you identify interesting, small, bootstrappedinnovations and support them, bring them into the center of the organization wherethey can scale, and so your innovators don’t have to bear the burden of sustainingevery single bit of their projects for time immemorial and so newcomers can adoptand build on their work.Organizations undergoing change often have a lot of small, isolated, experimentsgoing on, some of which can be quite successful. Without strong edge-to-coreprocesses, each of those experiments will succeed only as a one-off. Its hard forthem to scale or be replicated, its hard for the organization to learn from whatworked and what didnt—to develop best practices—and its hard for newinnovations to become the infrastructure for whatever comes next.To illustrate this phenomenon of innovations gradually becoming infrastructure,Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet in American Life project, has observed thatyou dont walk into hotel ballroom and say (paraphrased) "Hey, this room is onelectricity. Thats amazing!"5 Its unremarkable because the technology, once new, 33
  • 35. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012has through a variety of change processes become a reliable part of ourinfrastructure.New innovations can become part of the core IT stack quite quickly. When I helpedstart the Smithsonians first blog back in 2005 I had to write long memos and go tomeetings to argue about why the Smithsonian needed a blog. Blogging was noveland new to us but I argued that a blog was just a serial publication with certainconventions about voice and formatting, and that in a few years time everyonewould expect blogging to be an unremarkable facet of the web. Like hyperlinks andbookmarks, blogging would go from edge to core, from exotic and hard to being justanother part of the IT stack. We long ago decided that our curators wouldnt have toshovel their own coal to heat their offices, that we would provide them with heatand computers and fax machines and electricity as part of the core organizationalservices stack.If edge innovation is happening in an organization—and with free and easy IT andsocial media tools available in the cloud, it almost always is—edge to core needs tobe a core capability.[NOTE: Ive included two #4s in this document. Sometimes I use one: sometimes Iuse the other. Ill mark them below as 4.1 and 4.2] 34
  • 36. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/20124.1, The organizational immune systemI think most organizations are unaware—show little self-awareness—of thebehaviors that come with innovation and rapid, transformational change. Manyorganizations say they want innovation and transformational change, but the more Italk with innovators and the more I can recognize the disconnects between therhetoric and the reality.Peter Drucker, already a revered business management guru, wrote about thisphenomenon as early as 1985. In Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Practice andPrinciples (New York, Harper & Row), he observed " “Management tends to believethat anything that has lasted for a fair amountof time must be normal and go on forever. Anything that contradicts what we havecome to consider a law of nature is then rejected as unsound.”" (p 38)Scott Berkun in the Myths of Innovation observes that "Professional managementwas born from the desire to optimize and control, not to lead waves of change."(And I present this to you, with all humility, as someone who has been aprofessional manager for the last decade.)Berkun further observes that few managers are trained to recognize and nurture thedisruptive and often half-baked knocks on their door. It’s not a question ofintelligence or intention, it’s a willingness to re-evaluate management’s purpose.(Both Berkun points are made on page 100.) 35
  • 37. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/20124.2. Focus on the missionIt sounds trite when I say it that way. Obvious. But after talking with, I dont know—80 or 90 organizations in the last two years Ive noticed that the organizations thatare not…suffering…in their pursuit of worth in this epoch are the organizations thatare confident and clear about the outcomes they want in society. They know whatimpact they want to have on different groups of people.Im fortunate to work for an organization with a stupendous mission: the increaseand diffusion of knowledge. And in our strategy, under this mission, we say that"Four challenges provide an overarching strategic framework for Smithsonianprograms and operations."6 They are, Unlocking the mysteries of the universe Understanding and sustaining a biodiverse planet Valuing world cultures Understanding the American ExperienceThese are indeed four Grand Challenges. And we say in our strategy document, that"together, they will influence how the Institution directs our resources and focusesour energies." 36
  • 38. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012This is the strategy of an organization that wants to have an impact in the world.This is strategy that does "does work"—that tells you whats important and whatsnot, that helps us do our jobs.This is a picture from a strategy workshop I was at at the National WWII Museum inNew Orleans, Louisiana. Those people know the job theyre doing in society. Theyreextremely passionate about it. Their director says (paraphrase) "Every day, everyweek, we have WWII veterans in our museum distraught at how little theirgrandchildren know about WWII—the conflict that changed the world. Sixty-fivemillion people died in that war and our grandchildren dont know anything about it.You need to help them know and remember."So I get the sense that the 200-plus staff of this museum get up every day and havetheir Weaties and try to succeed in that mission and they dont really care somuch—they have their biases and their expertise, things theyre already good at—but theyre fairly agnostic about the tools, and refreshingly open minded aboutusing new media in unconventional ways to achieve their goals.Organizations with a clear sense of the impact they want to have on society are notstruggling as much organizations that are wishy-washy (less clear) about the jobtheyre supposed to do. 37
  • 39. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/20125. Place the betWithin most organizations the staff know what they need to do. The leaders knowwhat they need to do. Everyone knows, but theyre often hesitant, theyre waiting.And now, with this compressed, fast "now" - - its all about execution. About doing.Ill leave you with this. A January, 2011 Tom Friedman op-ed in the New York Timescalled Serious in Singapore [1/29/2011,, accessed7/25/2011].Mr. Friedman talks about visiting a fifth grade classroom in Singapore and beinggobsmacked by what he felt was a highly innovative CSI-like forensic DNA activity ina fifth grade classroom. He was floored. And when he went to the principal and 38
  • 40. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012asked how did you know to do this? What minister of Education put this program inplace? He was told that they had created this program because they had a greatscience teacher and they knew that Singapore was "making a big push to expand itsbiotech industries and thought it would be good to push her students in the samedirection early."After this encounter Friedman concluded that there were three things going on inthis principals head that made this innovative fifth grade science activity possible:She knew what world she was living in, she knew the role that her country wantedto play in that world, and therefore she knew what kinds of things should be goingon, day-to-day, in the classroom.I think thats the trick now for the stewards of our memory institutions—its thetrick of keeping those three things together, at the same time, in working memory.1. What is the world I am living in2. What impact does my organization want to have in that world3. And therefore, that third thing becomes pretty easy, what should we do—todayThats all Ive got. Thank you.Postscript1. This talk is focused on getting us to act upon the amazing potential of the presentmoment. That being said, make no mistake about it—I do still think the future isimportant. But if were really going to think about the future, if were really going totry to figure it out were going to have to work a lot harder at it than we are now. Ithink that the future, even ten or twenty years out, is going to get deeply weird. Itsgoing to challenge us, as a species, in ways that weve not had to confront in our longevolution. Just the advent of advanced DIY biotech and technologically augmented 39
  • 41. Michael Edson, Let Us Go Boldly Into the Present…9/6/2011 4/6/2012human life—things we can already see happening—are going to stress thefunctioning of our society and institutions in ways we can not quite imagine. If wewant to venture into this world were going to need to invest a large amount ofserious time and energy and talent. It wont be for the faint of heart.2. In the context of organizational change its worth mentioning a saying Iveborrowed from the Social Entrepreneurship movement,Think big,Start small,Move fast.1 "Do modems still matter?" May 29, 2006, from the blog Coding Horror, Accessed 7/29/20112 The Quicktake camera line was discontinued in 1997. See references at Apple QuickTake,, Accessed 8/3/20113 Joys Law is frequently referenced in business and strategy contexts without academic sourceattribution. A suitable primary reference seems to be Lakhani KR, Panetta JA, "The Principles ofDistributed Innovation," 2007, Smithsonian Web and New Media Strategy, Theme 3: Balance Autonomy and Control, Accessed7/29/2011.5 Heard by the author at the Foresee Results Citizen Satisfaction Summit, Washington, D.C. 2006.6 Page 3, Strategic Plan: Inspiring Generations Through Knowledge and Discovery. SmithsonianInstitution, Fiscal Years 2010-2015. Accessed 8/3/2011 40