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The Economist “Ideas Economy” Conference at UC Berkeley

March 25th, 2011

This week the Economist sponsored The IDEAS ECONOMY Conference at the Haas School of Business on the Berkeley campus.  I attended both days and enjoyed meeting many innovation experts from around the world.

A  look at Twitter:#ideaseconomy provides some short insights from the conference and here are a few of my favorite tweets:

  • H Chesbrough – Opening up processes to include the customer is even more important with services #ideaseconomy
  • Paul Kedrosky (Kauffman Foundation): We think of ourselves as economic virus hunters #ideaseconomy
  • Elon Musk: Success = talent x drive x opportunity. If any of those goes to zero, success is impossible #ideaseconomy
  • RT @govlab: Aneesh Chopra on stage showing that govt, innovation, and entrepreneurship can go together. #ideaseconomy
  • Fun at Economist Innovation Summit! IRS asking question of Scott Cook (Intuit) then NASA asking Elon Musk (SpaceX) #ideaseconom

What were the “big ideas” from the event?  Here are my top four:

1) The World is turning into an Idea Economy- we have entered a period where the Democratization of Ideas seems more potent in many ways than technology, leadership, and geography.  In this new economy, one’s location (Silicon Valley, New York City,  Cambridge UK, Beijing, or Finland) is not so important as the way in which ideas are shared and collaborated on.  The concept of  Open Service Innovation is taking hold (see my Haas colleague, Henry Chesbrough’s new book on this topic,) – and innovative companies are getting their ideas, as well as their execution from all corners of the world.

2) Education will be radically transformed in the next 10 years – lots of examples were presented at this conference that indicate that the global education system is about to be transformed by technologies such as cloud computing, virtual classrooms, video conferencing, and distance learning tools.  This transformation will bring affordable teaching to third world and developing countries, but also represents an opportunity for major “brands” like Harvard, Brown, Cal, Stanford to take a leadership in creating the “virtual” campus to extend their brand.

3) Government programs for entrepreneurship seem to be a priority of the current administration – for example, entrepreneurs have a tax break and angel investors have a break as well (through the end of 2012) for angel investing (perhaps partially explains the rush of angel capital investments moving into start-ups these days). Other programs like Start-up America (this is a good video – done YouTube style)…. Aneesh Chopra, CTO of the United States was interviewed at this conference.  He was praised for how worn out his shoes seem to be. Point of fact, he seems to intimately know many of the entrepreneurs, angels and VCs here in the Silicon Valley.  A good sign.

4) Think nimbly, make mistakes, fail often – this theme was stressed at the conference in many different forms and seems to capture the mindset of today’s most successful entrepreneurs.  Marc Zuckerberg , CEO of Facebook has been said (in an interview in 2010) “move fast and break things”.   This is a radical departure from 15 years ago, when companies carefully thought out and planned software development.  Given costs associated with cloud computing, open source programming, and other technologies, companies can afford to experiment and fail often – as long as they are tracking the results on their customers and changing course to reflect customer needs quickly

In contrast to TED, The Economist conference is smaller and more intimate.  So, it’s easier to talk with leading experts. Unlike TED, the conference was attended largely by a group of corporate executives and writers who are all intrigued by notions of

I’ve enjoyed attending both TED and The Economist events this Spring, but I still miss the intimacy and power of the early TED events in Monterey, when only 400 people attended and one could more easily kibitz with founders from Yahoo, Google, Amazon, MIT Media Labs, Microsoft and more.