Joi Ito: Want to innovate? Become a “now-ist”


Joi Ito is a Japanese-American activist, entrepreneur, venture capitalist and Director of the MIT Media Lab.


When an earthquake struck Japan and caused an explosion in a nuclear reactor, Joi was worried about his family and a lack of government transparency. He formed a group online ‘Safecast’ to design simple geiger counters and share results. After 3 years he has 16 million data points and an app to track radiation levels all over the world.

How was he able to form this group (who didn’t know much about radiation measurement), and give them such success? Before the internet, the world was simple and predictable. Now people are operating under a different set of principles – things are cheaper to develop, people don’t have to get ‘permission’ to do anything. The pre-internet business model was to find an MBA, get millions of dollars from investors to hire engineers and designers, then build it. Now you can collaborate for free, build something, then raise the money, then start to hire MBAs and come up with a business plan. This has pushed power towards the ‘dorm room startups’ and away from big companies. The new model is ‘deploy or die’ – you must get something out there to succeed.

3D printers and ‘factory in a box’ systems are starting to make hardware innovation cheaper as well – also pushing the cheap, iterative software development model into startups. Even genetic engineering is getting cheaper – with desktop gene sequencers available and automatic gene assemblers being developed.

‘Pull over Push’ – is an important principle. Don’t hold resources (help or expert advice), just seek them out when you need them.

‘Learning over Education’ – learning is teaching yourself, using the internet / Wikipedia to learn as you go. Education is about someone else teaching you, and tends to be statically absorbing everything you might need to know. Nowadays we don’t need to memorise encyclopedias, what is more important is knowing how to find what you need.

‘compass over maps’ – You can’t plan and map out everything in your plan. But if you know where you’re going, you can keep moving towards it.

So nowadays to innovate you don’t need to plan everything but you need to stay connected, always learning, and always present. You can’t be a futurist, you need to be a now-ist.

Steven Johnson: Where good ideas come from

Speaker: Steven Johnson

Length: 18:17

Rating 2 / 5


Steven discusses how ideas are formed. He argues against “lone scientists”, and eureka moments where a single person sitting along is the whole source of an idea. Instead he favours the coffee houses and team meeting environments where a number of different people can discuss and improve each other’s ideas. In this way, innovation is more organic, happening over a long time period.

He goes into detail about the discovery of GPS from a few curious researchers listening to sputnik, then one of them using Doppler to work out speed, then someone using the signal to work out its location, then their boss asking them to ‘reverse’ their calculations and develop a system to find ground locations from a satellite.


Chaos is the mother of invention! I like that idea, and the arguments for open source ideas instead of intellectual property protection.

It was an interesting summary of the history of good ideas. However, I think where this talk fell short is discussing how we can apply this in the modern environment. I’m particularly curious how the internet fits in – is this modern ultra-chaotic information sharing network more conducive to innovation? Or are we overloading ourselves and getting too much stimulus?

So I enjoyed the talk greatly. In rating I may be harsh because it stops short of passing on any ideas of its own. Still recommended though.