Today’s Brooklyn Beta conference offered up some pretty heady ideas. My attempt at a soundbite would be: Not only can you design a better society. You must.
“The legitimate object of government is to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they cannot, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, for themselves.” -Abraham Lincoln, July 1, 1854
This quote was shared by the first speaker of the day, Tim O’Reilly. It really stuck with me throughout the day as a theme emerged:
Large government and big business are totally fucked.
The command & control paradigms of the 20th century carry too much risk, inefficiency and opacity to succeed anymore. They have collapsed under their own weight. Numerous examples were presented today as evidence that these structures can no longer do for the people what needs to be done.
The 21st century will be defined by self-organizing structures and sustainability. Small entities that can create value in focused areas quickly and efficiently will succeed. This idea can be applied to government programs, small businesses, and product development methodology.
It is incumbent upon each of us to create a decentralized, self-sufficient, yet interconnected network of structures - businesses and NGO programs - to meet the needs of the people. We must create the services for the world we want.
Examples of decentralized services are appearing every day:
- Sharing of private services (airbnb, spinlister)
- Privatized social initiatives (charity.water, defy)
- micro-lending and open-funding (kickstarter, kiva)
There are opportunities everywhere. The tools of technology and design at our disposal afford enormous potential to seize the moment.
We’re at the start of an exciting time in a larger historical cycle. Modern history is marked by cycles (often 90-150 years) of alternating growth and contraction in all areas of human pursuit. These eras oscillate between Dionysian and Apollonian characters. Periods of robust creative growth, followed by a period of analytical formulation.
The 19th century saw america’s expansion driven prosperity launch a nation of small businesses. The 20th century industrial revolution saw an era of growth, consolidation and calcification of these small businesses. The 21st century marks an entry into a new Dionysian period of growth.
Summary of the Speakers
Time O’Reily discussed - among other things - open data and open government. His position that the transparency, and crowd-sourced effort can be applied to government cruft to the same effect they had on software. There is an opportunity to create a more humane capitalism by creating value for customers (read: citizens) rather than investors.
Catherine Hoke talked about Defy Ventures (and previous programs) that offer professional education for prison inmates. The programs succeed on two fronts. First they tap an undercapitalized resource in recognizing the raw talent of hustle, ambition and entrepreneurship extant in criminal enterprise. Secondly they rehabilitate people the system can not. People who never had the opportunity for structured education are provided that structure that communities can not. People who are left to rot are provided opportunities. It’s an answer to a double failing of our civic structures.
Larry Morrissey - Mayor of Rockford, Illinois - talks about reaching out to the ETSY’s CEO Chad Dickerson to help train local citizens in e-commerce. The partnership saught to use Community Supported Commerce to empower people where local government no longer had the resources to do so. The collapsed mono-industry of the area left citizens disenfranchised and the civic infrastructure incapable of supporting grass roots efforts. Private sponsored programs circumvent the red tape of government programs to build sustainable self-sufficient ventures.
AirBnB CPO Joe Gebbia discusses the Gratitude, Connection, and Movement spawned from the sharing economy. This manifested after Sandy when citizens used this tool to provide shelter and community to those who lost theirs in the storm. Citizens united at a time when the government couldn’t protect all the people in need.
Raul Gutierrez, Founder & CEO of TinyBop, told his company story. This was the one talk of the day that didn’t really fit the overarching storyline I saw from the previous speakers. Raul essentially told the story of tiny bop to date. He’s message was, “Do things the right way, with good people.