“Forget about being a futurist, become a now-ist.” With those words, Joi Ito, the director of the MIT Media Lab, ends his most recent talk at TED. What thrills me the most is his encouragement to apply agile principles throughout any innovation process, and creating in the moment, building quickly and improving constantly is the story we’ve been advocating at SoftLayer for a long while.
Joi says that this new approach is possible thanks to the Internet. I actually want to take it further. Because the Internet has been around a lot longer than these agile principles, I argue that the real catalyst for the startups and technology disruptors we see nowadays was the widespread, affordable availability of cloud resources. The chance of deploying infrastructure on demand without long-term commitments, anywhere in the world, and with an option to scale it up and down on the fly decreased the cost of innovation dramatically. And fueling that innovation has always been raison d'être of SoftLayer.
Joi compares two innovation models: the before the Internet (I will go ahead and replace “Internet” with “cloud,” which I believe makes the case even stronger) and the new model. The world seemed to be much more structured before the cloud, governed by a certain set of rules and laws. When the cloud happened, it became very complex, low cost, and fast, with Newtonian rules being often defied.
Before, creating something new would cost millions of dollars. The process started with commercial minds, aka MBAs, who’d write a business plan, look for money to support it, and then hire designers and engineers to build the thing. Recently, this MBA-driven model has flipped: first designers and engineers build a thing, then they look for money from VCs or larger organizations, then they write a business plan, and then they move on to hiring MBAs.
A couple of months ago, I started to share this same observation more loudly. In the past, if an organization wanted to bring something new to the market, or just make iteration to the existing offering, it involved a lot of resources, from time, to people, to supporting infrastructure. Only a handful of ideas, after cumbersome fights with processes, budget restrictions, and people (and their egos), got to see the daylight. Change was a luxury.
Nowadays the creators are people who used to be in the shadows, mainly taking instructions from “management” and spinning the hamster wheel they were put on. Now, the “IT crowd” no longer sits in the basements of their offices. They are creating new revenue streams and becoming driving forces within their organizations, or they are rolling out their own businesses as startup founders. There is a whole new breed of technology entrepreneurs thriving on what the cloud offers.
Coming back to the TED talk, Joi brings great examples proving that this new designers/engineers-driven model has pushed innovation to the edges and beyond not only in software development, but also in manufacturing, medicine, and other disciplines. He describes bottom-up innovation as democratic, chaotic, and hard to control, where traditional rules don’t apply anymore. He replaces the demo-or-die motto with a new one: deploy or die, stating that you have to bring something to the real world for it to really count.
He walks us through the principles behind the new way of doing things, and for each of those, without any hesitation, I can add, “and that’s exactly what the cloud enables” as an ending to each statement:
- Principle 1: Pull Over Push is about pulling the resources from the network as you need them, rather than stocking them in the center and controlling everything. And that’s exactly what the cloud enables.
- Principle 2: Learning Over Education means drawing conclusions and learning on the go—not from static information, but by experimenting, testing things in real life, playing around with your idea, seeing what comes out of it, and applying the lessons moving forward. And that’s exactly what the cloud enables.
- Principle 3: Compass Over Maps calls out the high cost of writing a plan or mapping the whole project, as it usually turns out not to be very accurate nor useful in the unpredictable world we live in. It’s better not to plan the whole thing with all the details ahead, but to know the direction you’re headed and leave yourself the freedom of flexibility, to adjust as you go, taking into account the changes resulting from each step. And that’s exactly what the cloud enables.
I dare to say that all the above is the true power of cloud without fluff, leaving you with an easy choice when facing the deploy-or-die dilemma.