Turning back time like the Rolling Stones and BEBO

Events in the last week point towards a reawakening of days gone by – could the same be needed for innovation?

Events in the last week point towards a reawakening of days gone by – could the same be needed for innovation?

Back from the dead seems like a theme of the week. During the last seven days: UK economic figures revised somewhat positively, the Rolling Stones delivered a Saga-storming Glastonbury performance, and now we hear that the UK deal of the century (Autonomy aside) in BEBO (which sold for $850 million in 2007) is being bought back by the founders for $1 million.

Perhaps it brings a whole new heuristic to the age-old: ‘how do you get £1 million – start with £100 million and form an airline’, to the new: ‘start with a $1 billion social network’.

I must say, I have never liked online social networks as they feel so faddish. Apart from the eventual ‘yes’ click to serial early ‘spam’ from Esther Dyson on something that became LinkedIn, I’ve never yet managed to face joining Facebook/Twitter, or risk ending up as a monotonous grey suited user with an open book instead of a face.

I can’t imagine anything more fruitless or annoying, or perhaps destructive of economic value through wasting time. Social network models are close to the top of my list of annoying things, along with payday loans company models, app games, and those Assange/Snowden folk.

I wonder if anyone has ever compared the collective man years absorbed/wasted in these vs. say building the Greek empire, or Apollo moon landings, or trying to solve cancer. 

I fear Ayn Rand was correct in her ‘Atlas Shrugged’ concept of Galt’s Gulch when she envisaged a utopia which attracted all the best minds, away from the real world to create their own ‘social’ valley – not unlike the Silicon Valley of today.

I suppose in a recession when there is nothing else to do, such pointless social networks and games have seen a boon time. And there is a lot of respect, as an entrepreneur to persevere, to the Angry Birds folk in being perhaps their 60th attempt before gazillions arrived.

I do worry though, that when everyone joins the same club, reads the same feeds, responds robotically as a mass being to the same animation games, twitters the same pointless minutiae, that a) people start thinking collectively and effectively risk stop thinking, and b) innovation converges and rarely breaks free into something truly original. 

There is a model, likely buried in the akashic origins of our planet or eastern myths, that the internet and this convergence of thought communication is part of the game plan for collectivism, collective consciousness stuff. 

As an innovator, one needs to be partly connected in to everything, the zeitgeist, the problem space, to spot discontinuities, arbitrage, opportunities for new models, invention. As an entrepreneur, it is perhaps more essential to be ‘wired’ to time invention properly to market, otherwise the runway (time and money needed before commercial) can be longer than one expects. 

I see this personally in having created, at Moixa, a range of breakthrough mobile device advances, like smart watches, rollable tablets, multi-touch orbs only to be still waiting on flexible displays and smart watches ten years later. But it seems pretty obvious now that a wave of these things are about to appear. 

To make truly breakthrough invention though (at the Darwin and Einstein end) perhaps more isolation is needed. Let’s hope some hibernating geniuses will now awake, given the light at the end of the recession, and define a new dawn for technology and business growth. 

I am still very much expecting physics will undergo a market correction and open up a step change in ideas for this century, so perhaps the concluding message here is to be optimisitic that some amazing things from science may still be possible – a new awakening.  

Simon Daniel

Yessenia Hermann

Simon Daniel is the inventor of the USB battery and folding keyboard. He was also CEO of Moixa, the renewable energy group.

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