Tech Superstars Hit the Road for Obama

Submitted by Kevin Cronin on Sat, 10/11/2008 - 01:02.

There's something about tech entrepreneurs talking to superstar tech entrepreneurs that is, as Sarah Palin might say, "so gosh,darn excitin'." While I could have done without people getting so braggy about Columbus and a booming tech industry, but I was excited to meet some tech superstars, who hit the road on behalf of Barack Obamma's presidential campaign at an event called 2.Ohio. The guest speakers were terrific:
* Reid Hoffman, CEO of social network "Linked In;"
* Judy Estrin, author of "Closing The Innovation Gap" (www.theinnovationgap.com);
* Craig Newmark, founder of Craig's List; and
* Mike Nelson, One of the head wonks from the Clinton Administration, with stints at IBM, the Federal Communications Commission, Office of Science and Technology Policy and currently Professor of Internet Studies at Georgetown University.
It's clear the tech leaders aren't shy in saying Obama is all over McCain, in terms of vision and potential for execution for a tech-savvy America.

Judy Estrin started, talking about America's short-sightedness causing an innovation deficit that desperately needs to be addressed: "The US innovation ecosystem has been in decline since 1970s." As individuals, organizations and as a nation, we have to be willing to gamble smartly and invest, without necessarily knowing the outcome, as investment in science, technology and talent pays off in the long run. She notes that talent is not a n individual thing, but a team concept. Do you have the team with the right skills, aptitude, drive and passion? Americans have come to avoid innovation, because it can be a long, messy process, thriving on bringing and involving different perspectives.
We need to challenge others and ourselves, as that's what drives the capacity to change and innovate. Here elements:
1) willingness to question, but more than questioning, success depends on a constant state of self-assessment, critical evaluation and re-evaluation.
2) We need to embrace risk and make ourselves vulnerable, with a willingness to fail, provided we learn from failure.
3) Related, we need to embrace openness, challenging ourselves to look at new data and use our imagination;
4) we need to exercise patience, which includes tenacity, persistence and patient capital funding;
5) We need to demonstrate trust, in both ourselves and others, relying on a transparent and open process that embraces review and self-evaluation.

In a common refrain, Estrin lauded Obama for his intelligence and willingness to seek out others, his commitment to science and technical literacy and his potential for leadership. Estrin described innovation leadership, as like gardening, requiring vision, good judgment, instinct, and a willingness to deal with ambiguity. Leadership relies on inspiration, not fear, and a willingness to balance the best of the generations, the boomers, X and Y.

Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, cited entrepreneurialism as the US competitive business model, the creation of a culture of entrepreneurship and intelligent risk-taking that is critical to creating value, coupled with the ideas themselves and the execution. Through social networks like Linked In, you can augment your strengths and overcome weaknesses by assembling those around you and aligning others to your goals and activities -- tapping expertise on an exponential basis. "We can't continue to stick our head in the sand, which has been the plan of the last eight years." If you trust the network, you can find and deploy the expertise, constantly adapting and improving, relying on the network intelligence.

Mike Nelson brought his experience at the blending of public policy and technology, noting that Obama is smart guy who surrounds himself with great thinkers. He points out that we are at an important point in history, as big as the debut of the net itself, with the potential of the Internet as the platform itself for computing, with "cloud computing."

Why Obama?
1.Emphasis on fixing policy - bring best science in, using social media to get good ideas from everywhere - right now, policy makers are too closed off or ideological
2.Real science advisor are needed to get other deeply involved in all facets of policy. Technology is not a discrete subject, but a part of everything.
3.The nation needs a Chief Technology Officer
4.Obama pledges to double basic science research funding, not just the National Institute of Health, but the Department of Energy, Department of Commerce/NIST and others
5.We need broadband everywhere - we need the broadest deployment, the biggest infrastructure
6.We need to embrace tech to improve productivity everywhere, all sectors more efficient and better outcomes

Craig Newmark contented himself with a supporting role, challenging people to ask what do we do with all of this potential?

You can supplement Nelson's comments by reviewing the Obama technology plan (or the education plan, health plan and energy plan, all of which rely on technology appplications) here:
http://www.barackobama.com/issues/technology/

There's a lot to like about Barack Obama and while Senator Obama is often criticized for his relative youth, he has been both innovative and successful on several issues, illustrating tech savvy and appreciation for the technology economy:
* With Republican Senator Tom Coburn (Oklahoma), he called for a search engine (sounds simple, I know, but previously for those searching for information, the bureaucracy was a maze) to open up the federal bureaucracy and ease navigation and searches for federal information, like grants, contracts and loans opportunities.
* Senator Obama was able to gain support and incorporation of several additional amendments of his own to the America COMPETES Act, which was signed into law, to increase participation of women and minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. While NEOSA, locally, has urged internships and mentoring, Obama's amendments created a state grant program to support summer education programs to address math and problem solving and establish a mentoring program for women and minorities.

So Craig Newmark's question is still out there: what do we do with all of this potential? What indeed?