Saturday, January 13, 2007

The best way
to predict the future

Alan Kay said “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

And now, my enterprising friend, there are companies set up to do nothing but invest in innovation.

Nathan Myhrvold is an innovation pioneer. He started guiding this field to some pretty interesting ground back in 2000. His company, Intellectual Ventures, is a platform for creating invention, and specifically intellectual property. These folks work in high tech, but Mr. Myhrvold speaks from a really unique bully pulpit for many of us, I believe.

In a recent interview in, Mr. Myhrvold talked about wanting his company to become a model for creating and supporting new innovations in many fields worldwide. “I think that the great business innovation in the first part of the 21st century is going to be this: treating inventions – and patents, as the specific legal form – as a first class asset”

He goes on, “If we’re successful, and if the world follows us – and I hope the world follows us – and 10 years from now there’s 50 of these funds or 100 of these funds, that will channel billions of dollars into the hands of inventors and inventing organizations.”

The way Intellectual Ventures is proceeding is controversial and exciting. I come out mostly on the side of IV. Read more from the links below to make up your own mind.

What’s reassuring for me is that, on the topic of innovation and invention Mr. Myhrvold, who specializes in bleeding edge high tech stuff, also holds very pragmatic, old school views about business innovation and growth. This leads me to conclude both his feet and his ideas are well grounded and that there’s hope in this direction.

One break from tradition I liked is IV’s rejection of the ‘not invented here’ syndrome. They acknowledge that the minimum time from conception to patent is about 3 years. I’ve found this to be true. For folks without IV’s deep pockets it can be much longer.

Their own in-house solution is to grow through external partners. According to Mr. Myhrvold, “So, in building our business, we realized that we were not going to be able to address a lot of our potential opportunities for such a long period of time, that it made sense to do a combination of both - doing our own invention and investing in others’ ... the other ones (are) already done. It’s a way of buying yourself five or six or 10 years into the future.

Innovation is in the air, my friend. Everybody wants it. The world needs it. Patents are part of the Intellectual Venture story, but they are not necessary for everyone’s story. Start ups and early stagers need great ideas, but for most of us, there will never be a need for patents. (Intellectual property, yes, but that’s for another post.)

What I find really hopeful is that the entrepreneurship behind the innovation is in equal demand. If you can develop reproducible solutions to real problems, your enterprise can find support from many directions, public and private. If the Intellectual Ventures model thrives, it will be copied and reproduced and morphed across many industries and sectors of life.

The future is inevitable. Getting there is never easy, but the process is as inevitable as gravity. You’re going to work with the future or against it, but the future is going to happen.

Countless generations of hard working people sacrificed to get you to this renaissance moment of economic opportunity.

You can do it. Invent, innovate and create your future. If you can partner with others to get there faster and smarter, all the better. Just don’t miss the opportunity to act.

I wish you well.

Intellectual Ventures web site

The Dec 5, 2006 interview with Nathan Myhrvold is available in PDF format from the IV link above.

Business Week article July 3, 2006: Inside Nathan Myhrvold's Mysterious New Idea Machine

Alan Kay info on Wikipedia

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