What's the Big Idea?

What is the meaning of the viral cat phenomenon? When future historians attempt to decode this moment in history, what will they make of this? If their verdict is that we were all a pack of drooling idiots, they’ll be missing the point. According to John Seely Brown, a visionary computer scientist and innovation expert known by many names (including, and best of all, Chief of Confusion), this is a Cambrian moment in which “small moves, smartly made” can have global impact.

The precise impact of the watermelon cat is debatable, but the rapidity and scale with which such things “go viral” these days attests to two things: the fact that we’re in a moment of extreme flux – one in which almost anything is possible, and the web’s power to transmit ideas and galvanize action around them. Those motivated and adept enough to seize the moment have the opportunity to reshape the way we think, live, learn, communicate, and do business.

From an evolutionary standpoint, which traits are most adaptive to a historical moment  in which old certainties have vanished and anything is possible? According to Seely Brown, they include bravery, creativity, and a sense of play. A creative mind, he says, approaches this wide-open world with a sense of experimental curiosity. In a multivariate world, causation is tough to predict – the best the innovator can do is to hypothesize about the possible impact of, say, a new piece of software on the marketplace. The good news is that the exponential rate of technological change has lowered many barriers to entry – significantly reducing the costs of development and deployment.  With this in mind, the innovator places calculated bets, and is prepared to lose many times on the way to success.

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What's the Significance?

For small businesses, taking advantage of this moment means taking an active interest in the changes that are happening – keeping informed in real-time, via social media and the web, of disruptions, miscommunications, and the opportunities that arise from both. Take the example of Square, a Silicon Valley company set to redefine the way consumers interact with retailers. Their innovation? Seamless payment that doesn’t rely on cash or credit card transactions – several months from now, consumers nationwide will be able to order a latte at Starbucks simply by saying their name.  Square hasn’t created an alternate currency, it’s leveraging the existing technology to streamline payment for consumers and lower the cost to businesses of credit card transactions. A small move, smartly made.

For John Seely Brown, monetary success is simply a side effect of the personal satisfaction that signals successful adaptation to this brave new world. When work starts to feel like play, when you’re no longer interested in what can’t be done, when you jump out of bed in the morning to check the results of your latest entrepreneurial experiment – you’ll know you’re on the right track.

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