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Going Boldly into the Present

Michael Edson, Director Web Strategy & New Media, Office of the CIO, Smithsonian Institution, delivered the keynote speech on the third day of Computers in Libraries. He began by telling the audience to “Go boldly into the present.” The present? Huh? Edson continued, “To talk about where we go from here, you have to think about where we are and where we’re going to. We’re no longer in a culture of continuity.”

When he began at the Smithsonian, Edson thought strategists were visionaries. He’s now concluded that strategy should be a physical tool, a shared story, that makes something happen. We’ve been galvanized over the past few years about how quickly things disappear. We need tools to think about new ideas. Innovation is an endurance race.

Snap out of the idea that strategy is about the broadcast idiom. He cited books written between 2002 and 2006 that recognize the importance of community. These ideas are absent from strategy workshops. You can build real strategies from the long tail, Joy’s law, cognitive surplus, network effects, and Moore’s law and mobile, and the recognition that every user is a hero. We’re not in a read culture, it’s a read/write world. We can build on these ideas, they’re not new anymore.

Big piece of what we think of as the distant future is here now. It presents us with a real, bankable opportunities. For example, the World War II Museum in New Orleans sees results of digitization as a reputation and revenue builder. Cheap platforms and successful examples are all around us in abundance.

What can we do differently to create value? How do we pivot? Edson described five patterns.

1. Extraterrestrial space auditor: Compare what organization says it does with what actually happens.

2. On ramps and loading docks: Innovation is likely to happen somewhere else, not inside walls of organization. How can we get ideas and volunteer labor into our organizations. Think expansively about what a platform is.

3. Edge to core: Innovation happens at the edges, but edge innovators need a commons

4. Focus on the mission: Have big, audacious goals

5. Place the bet. It’s all about execution.

Michael Edson

Michael Edson

Finally, ask yourself, what world am I living in? What impact does my country, my city, my organization want to have in that world? What should I do today? This is your job and society needs you to succeed at it. Think big, start small, and move fast. Go boldly into the present.









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