Presented by Mario Morino|
to the Digital Footprints Conference
December 4, 1996
© 1999-2016, Morino Institute. All rights reserved.
The winners, finalists and applicants for this years NII Awards
are symbols of three powerful forces that, increasingly, are
coming to touch us all. The first is a growing dissatisfaction
with our institutions, the second is a renewed spirit of
entrepreneurism, and the third is a revolution in communications
that is transforming the way we connect, communicate, and
A growing dissatisfaction with institutions-- from corporations
to governments to schools-- is inspiring a desire for change that
is being felt across all socioeconomic levels, ideological beliefs
and diverse backgrounds.
The explosive growth in entrepreneurial activity is being
triggered as more individuals confront the financial upheavals
and uncertainty caused by consolidations, mergers, and
downsizing. It is a movement that is sweeping our country.
The communications revolution is changing how people interact
with one another, how organizations engage their constituencies,
how we access information. It is also making possible a kind of
"collective IQ" where thousands of people can be connected to
focus on an issue. The revolution is founded on a new many-to-
many, participatory communications medium that offers:
As the three movements converge, they fuel each other and
present us with enormous economic, educational and social
opportunity that can form the basis for a societal transformation.
- a capacity for rapid assembly and advocacy
- an ensnaring capability for information collection
- the power of individual publishing and personal expression, and
- a remarkably effective distribution model
Who Will Lead This Transformation?
Fundamental transformations are not led by institutions.
Institutions, for the most part, have a focus which prohibits their
ability to recognize and understand the sea change around them.
Their organizational structures impede their ability to adapt and
respond, and they often sub-optimize their activity in new
venues to protect legacy interests, products or markets.
Consider this recent quote from the article "Making Money on
the Net" in the September 23, 1996 issue of Business Week:
While corporate giants have been thrashing around
noisily in cyberspace, showing how not to make money
on the Net, scores of entrepreneurs have been quietly
tinkering-creating new business models for retailing,
marketing, publishing and advertising that work for
them and could perhaps point the way to an Internet
Action and knowledge is with people on the cutting edge in this
digital age. Peter Drucker once defined the entrepreneur "as
someone who does something new and gets it done." We
suggest that there is a new breed of entrepreneur-- netpreneur--
who is getting new things done with the digital medium.
Agents of Change
Netpreneurs are the people creating models, ventures and
opportunities centered around digital networks. They are united
by their reliance on the network bridge and the critical mass of
the Internet. They are students of all ages developing new ideas
in their basements and employees who become overnight
millionaires at companies like America Online, Yahoo,
Netscape, and scores more. They are intrapreneurs spinning out
of older, established organizations, collaborating in new ways to
understand and capitalize on the landscape of opportunity. And
they are not just building businesses. Netpreneurs are bringing
innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit to healthcare,
education, government and community service.
It is essential that we cultivate these netpreneurs and help
convert this movement into a force for positive change. I would
like to share with you some work we are doing in the Greater
Washington, DC area with the Potomac KnowledgeWay Project,
a collaborative effort to establish the region as a hub of
innovation in the digital economy and a global center for the
knowledge industries of the 21st century. The effort, which has
been underway for more than a year, is based on three strategies,
with the key being a program to cultivate the regions
netpreneur community. The Potomac KnowledgeWay
Netpreneur Program is creating a place-- virtually and
physically-- where netpreneurs can come together and exchange
knowledge as they thresh out the new rules of this embryonic
world. It is creating a support network to meet the unique needs
of netpreneurs and matching them with other netpreneurs,
funders, advisors, the press and potential partners. Our mission
is to connect, inform and promote and we would welcome the
opportunity to work with you in this effort.
Tracking The Revolution
What are the sectors, companies and people we need to watch to
appreciate the communications revolution and netpreneur
movement? The giant companies will, of course have their
effect-- Microsoft, Oracle, Sun and others-- but I would suggest
three courses to you in order to stay prepared.
With all this in mind, 1997 will produce astonishing gains.
Some clear ones: electronic commerce will make its
breakthrough; new web-browsing devices, like WebTV, will be
a consumer hit and help fuel Internet growth; Web sites will
become much more interactive; and we will begin to see shake-
outs in various sectors such as search engines, news delivery,
Internet service providers and the like. The not-so-obvious:
more people and investors will come to recognize the
importance of community building and communities of interest.
And, frankly, the safest prediction of all: there will be at least,
one unexpected introduction that will entirely reshape the terrain
as has happened in each of the last several years. Personally, I
hope that 1997 will be the year of the netpreneur, when
awareness, opportunity and inspiration are seized by the broad
- Avoid the trap that treats the Internet as a homogeneous
universe. It is not. There are many diverse sectors. Track the
particular trends and innovations in areas such as biomatics,
middleware development and wireless and satellite
communications, as well as new phenomenon like reverse
publishing through online communities of interest.
- Watch events that are off your normal "radar screen" to
permit and encourage serendipitous convergence.
- Track new models and enabling actions. For example, the
National Institute of Healths decision to place the DNA
coding data base on the Internet will spur netpreneurs to
create new opportunities, services and products from this
It is important to remember that we are only in the initial wave
of the communications revolution, filled as much with questions
as opportunities. And the most important questions involve
People, Not Technologies, Solve Problems
With the promise and potential of the "information
superhighways" we should all ask ourselves: Why, despite the
communications innovations of the last 150 years, each of which
was supposed to miraculously improve our society, do we
approach the 21st century with so many vexing social problems
unresolved, and, in some cases, made worse? Why, with all this
progress, does Peter Drucker see our greatest challenge as one of
"civilizing our cities?" Why does Russell Ackoff, one of the
great systemic thinkers of our time, see our challenge as
"reinventing our society?" And, why do so many people see our
challenge as one of healing our communities?
The answers are not in technology, but in people. The hope and
promise is that the uniquely empowering nature of the new
communications medium may help people collaborate to find
answers. The question is: How do we capitalize on the
opportunity for sustained, constructive change for our families,
communities, institutions and businesses?
Here are six thoughts for your consideration.
- Convey the Opportunity of the Communications Revolution
We must increase general awareness of the implications of the
communications revolution and the opportunities-- and risks-- it
creates. Most importantly, we must provide context and
meaning that make it relevant to individuals. While it may sound
basic to you here today, the majority of people in the United
States (and certainly the world) do not have an understanding of
- Develop Informed and Relevant Public Policy
We need more constructive, balanced discussions and a public
policy framework to advance and capitalize on the
communications revolution. This can only come about by a
more involved and knowledgeable public, an informed political
body and less ideological rhetoric from the "cyber-libertarians,"
"technogeeks" and "censor-kings." A history of democratic
process based on deliberation, constructive debate and
compromise has benefited us all. We need to recreate and
embody these practices in this venue.
- Be Outcomes Driven
Measure what you value. We must be less focused on technical,
trophy accomplishments, like giving every child a laptop
computer, and more focused on making a sustainable difference;
that is, the real outcomes for people, businesses and
communities. Is our challenge wiring our schools or giving kids
the skills and opportunity to learn? I implore you to move away
from infrastructure metrics, such as number of classrooms
connected, and be more outcomes-based-- for example, set your
goal to raise the literacy rate of graduating students by 50%.
Please dont fall prey to the measurement mistakes the
Information Technology world made in the last several decades.
We placed infrastructure ahead of results. It took the IT industry
over 30 years to understand that outcomes-- not boxes and
wires-- were their real mission. Lets be smarter in how we
advance the digital communications medium.
- Ensure "Ubiquitous" Access
We must be sure that in our drive for short-term market
positions and profits we do not inadvertently gate netpreneurial
potential. Dramatic growth and innovation demands very low-
cost, ubiquitous access both to networks and to the information
repositories of government, educational and nonprofit
- Advance Neighborhood Learning Centers
We need to establish physical centers in neighborhoods that
focus on mentoring and which provide a safe place for kids and
their families to learn. While clearly the greatest need is in low-
income neighborhoods, it exists across socioeconomic levels.
We desperately need to move learning beyond the schools--
augment and help schools, certainly-- but, in some cases, also
provide for alternative learning. The new medium holds a
unique promise for these centers in its ability to break through
walls of isolation, helping people-- especially children-- connect
with each other and explore new horizons.
- Promote a 21st Century Literacy
We must design and deliver programs which develop the new
learning skills of the digital age. People, especially children,
need them in schools at all levels, in neighborhood learning
centers and in organizations across all sectors. We suggest
programs in critical cognitive skills to help people learn how to
reach, connect, interact and learn from the diverse networks of
groups and individuals across the world. We need to help people
better understand the skills of information discovery, editorial
validation, assimilation, presentation and dissemination made
essential by the Internet. We need to help people learn the social
interaction skills inherent to the new medium, the practices of
expression, the culture of community responsibility and
participation, and the ethical use of information and services.
The Importance of Context And Meaning
Lewis Perelman, author of Schools Out, eloquently stated that
the definition of haves and have nots is not about money,
computers or access, but who will be able to learn in our new
society. This will cut through all classes.
Most of all, we should remember that this is too new for anyone
to have the answers about what this revolution will ultimately
hold, least of all me. In 1993, after all, video-on-demand was for
the future, Netscape was a glimmer in Jim Clarks eye and
America Online toiled alone. Way back then the major
companies were building private networks and insisting that the
Internet would not influence their plans, the National
Information Infrastructure had just been announced and no
informed source would have comprehended the passage of a
computer decency act.
Everyone in the digital world should place two quotes on their
bathroom mirrors and review them every day. The first is by
Tom Peters: "Loving change, tumult, even chaos is a
prerequisite for survival, let alone success." I would only add,
especially when it applies to yourself. The second is from
Andrew Grove who cautions "Only the paranoid survive."
Yes, we must embrace change, but we must also distinguish it
from meaningful progress. Will we see beyond the wires,
computers, and web sites to pioneer positive economic,
educational and social effects? It is exhilarating to see the
accomplishments of the NII Award winners, yet we cannot
forget that our communities, schools, and businesses are facing
formidable challenges. We need action and solutions to systemic
problems. Luckily, we have a very real chance to be part of
historical solutions that will shape our future. Judge innovation
by these criteria: Will it really make a difference? Will it lead to
positive systemic change? And, ultimately, why will anyone
© 1999-2016 Morino Institute