Storming the Silos

I met an American honeymooning couple on the ferry back from Waiheke Island on Saturday. In spite of fatigue from a long day in the sun and sampling the island's hospitality we had one of those curiously random conversations one has with strangers when forced to sit face to face. Nicole, the new Mrs Truitt, talked about her experience as a Ph.D student at the University of Southern California, San Diego (electrical engineering, I think). She had founded a competition with some of her colleagues to stimulate innovation and cross pollination - subjects near and dear to my heart. Perhaps it wasn't such a random conversation after all? I visited the contest's web site. The aims are:

:: Developing networks of people with technical, financial, marketing, and management backgrounds with the common interest in creating new enterprises

::Fostering the generation of marketable ideas and their development into value generating enterprises

:: Encouraging awareness of cutting edge technology in the business community and awareness of business realities in the technological/scientific community

:: Ultimately securing the future health of San Diego’s economy by promoting development of new industries and enterprises

I wonder whether starting something similar here might be worthwhile?

In my speech to the Congress of the Council for the Humanities last weekend I spoke about the issue of silos, lack of interaction between schools and departments at Massey University, where I teach. I mooted that it was probably similar in other Universities and learning institutions across the country.

Because of our small population base it is critical that we learn to be better at this. The principle of Metcalf's Law must apply. If there are 100,000 people active in our creative economy, then it follows that, as a network the value of the network increases to be equivalent to a population of 31 million, give or take a couple of hundred thousand. It seems absurd. But what it the true network effect, allowing for variations in the quality of interactions and relevence of connection, was just a quarter of that, it would be worth putting the tools and framework in place.

I guess the things that inhibit the conversation are 'official' conduits (i.e. bottle-necks, where the possible number of conversations is constricted by a facilitating body or editor/arbiter). Look at the value of unmediated social networks like MySpace.com, YouTube or the hoary New Zealand Chestnut, TradeMe. Unfettered conversations in the marketplace seem to thrive, rather than a chaperoned model.
I'll have to go back to Chris Locke's extraordinary book Gonzo Marketing - I'm sure he discussed this in detail. S'funny how ideas that seemed so subversive when they were published are today's orthodoxy...

Food for thought. Storm the silos! Thanks to the Justis-Truitt's for stimulus, congratulations for their marriage. I hope they enjoy their trip and recommend New Zealand to their friends.

Final remark for now. I've been listing to a terrifically subversive album - Nouvelle Vague...Bande a part. Slightly unsettling to hear songs that were so much part of my youth - including the Clash's Guns of Brixton and Dead Kennedies Too Drunk to F**k performed a la bosanova...with sultry chanteuse vocals. Great fun. My personal favourite is I Melt With You (orginally by the one hit wonder 80s band Modern English)

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