From maker space to solver space

Conferences are for meetings.  Project teams build deliverables.  Data is for data scientists.  Online communities are for social contact.

Until now, when a new mix is emerging.  Can we solve difficult problems in a short-term conference setting?  Is there a new way to run a workshop, which is dynamic, data-driven, visual, collaborative?

I wrote a few months back about the Silicon Valley Sim Center: an initiative to bring a new way to solve “wicked” problems to Silicon valley.  And in an article in this month’s Wired called “Hey Silicon Valley, Buckminster Fuller has a lot to teach you by Sarah Fallon, she interviews Jonathon Keats about his new book on what Bucky has to say to Silicon Valley.*

And from “maker spaces” to “solver spaces”, a new way of working together to solve difficult problems is emerging.

Here’s the idea: Imagine a jigsaw puzzle the size of a football field, and tens of thousands of fans.     Give each person a piece of the puzzle.  You have a fuzzy idea of what the puzzle will look like.    What’s the best way to get the right puzzle pieces to the right place?

You are allowed to choose between words and pictures: either create documents with instructions in text or project your image onto the field.

Which way works better?  Most people would agree that the visual image is best.   I followed up with Kimberly Wiefling and Peter Meisen  of the Silicon Valley SimCenter initiative recently to learn the latest developments in the SimCenter project, and Kimberly told me that story.  They said it tells us how to solve a new class of problems.

“Wicked” problems are the hard but worthwhile ones: poverty, conflict, hunger, health, climate.  It’s reasonable to think that Silicon Valley technology could help a bit, and it’s certainly true that me and many of my Artificial Intelligence friends aspired to more than just commercial goals as we dedicated our careers to stretching the boundaries of technology.  However, today, the vast majority of this technology is used by companies whose business model is based on sales and marketing.  Though many of them are doing good things around the edges, solving the really hard problems is not their primary goal.

Peter said that “in movies we see a “mission control” or “war room”: a place where there are large-scale visual tools that allow teams to better understand what’s happening in a specific time and place or to track trends over time.  The Sim Center in San Diego is such a place: by immersing people in a physical space they gain a collective understanding.”  Kimberly and Peter went on to explain that collaboration and physical proximity are key to activating the “hive mind” shared understanding of options for the future, including costs and benefits, which lead to smarter decisions, faster.  And they’re working hard to make that a reality here.

Sounds like a good idea.  I’m heading over to NASA tomorrow with my friends Jack Park, Ruth Fisher, and John Kelly to see what kind of collaboration we can make happen.  Stay tuned.

*Read more in this Forbes article too.

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