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, written by Jeremy. Read the commentary.

Here’s an unsolved riddle: How do we get the minds of widely dispersed, brilliant people to focus on critical problems/opportunities? How do we synchronize greatness?

Dave Pollard brought this up a few days ago. He writes:

“… we don’t need more leaders, more gurus, more one-size-fits-all prescriptions. They’re for simple and complicated problems. For complex problems we need something better, more emergent, more democratic. We need ways to enable billions to sync with us, on their own terms, in their own context, developing their own plan of action, and then we need ways to let those billions connect and collaborate in powerful ways, in experiments and in creating and refining working models in their own self-selected communities, so that they no longer need the systems that are destroying our world, so that we can all walk away from them and build new sustainable ones.”

It’s a grand challenge: Synch billions in their own self-selected communities. I don’t know – maybe we ought to start with Dave’s advice and get up some experiments – get busy creating and refining working models.

At the risk of just adding one more conflicting model to the pile, here’s an idea:


Sift, sort, filter, and tailor sets of opportunities and related inspiring bits for presentation to a forum of inventors – in our culture this is the group most likely to quickly grasp the technical implications of new propositions. Present the context surrounding each opportunity and the rationale behind each potentially inspiring bit of information. For example, perhaps the opportunity is utilizing trees killed by the Pine Beetle. Potential bits of inspiration might include a 1,000 year old process for using extremely high heat to gasify the trees and capture the residual gas. Another potential source of insight could be a process where the fibers are exploded by injecting steam under very high pressure so the valuable lignans can be captured intact. Finally, the inventors might hear from an engineer currently running a failing company that uses the wood to make pellets for household stoves.

Let the inventors choose to refine the techologies that are presented or use these as ideas to launch new and previously undiscussed applications. The purpose is to invoke creativity and insight while celebrating the inventive brilliance of technologists.


If one or more of the propositions are championed by the inventors, then present these to a hand-picked forum of entrepreneurs. Tell the entrepreneurs about the rationale behind the opportunity, let the inventors present their understanding of the technology and the challenges involved, help them describe their views of how to move forward. Use this information and the insights of the entrepreneurs to move the idea forward. When the entrepreneurs jump on a particular idea build out a commercialization strategy and identify the necessary requirements to move it into the market. Now take the idea, the inventors, and the entrepreneurs to a hand-picked crew of VCs.

Make sure everyone understands that when the VCs listen to the perspective of the entrepreneurs and inventors, they are not being asked to invest. They are being invited to add their understanding of markets and finance to the strategic decisions required when forming new companies. They are also invited to play an active role in the early stages of developing the new company – to play the role of partner rather than predator.

Hopefully, if well chosen, some within each group will overlap with the other two groups. An inventor might also be a savvy entrepreneur. Or an entrepreneur might have been successful enough to dabble with VC investment. These people would provide a key role in translating opportunities as they evolve through the process. It’s also important to keep in mind that each forum member is chosen because they have the respect of their peers, so when a specific opportunity is chosen by the inventors they don’t fight a battle to build credibility with the other two groups. Similarly, when the inventors and entrepreneurs have agreed to move an idea forward that is in itself enough to bridge the gap most new companies face when presenting new ideas to potential VC investors. The VC’s are chosen not only because they complement each other and the rest of the forum, but also because they recognize how valuable they can be if they participate early in new ventures rather than waiting until market entry (as is usually done).


Once an opportunity has made it through the three groups (inventors, entrepreneurs, and VCs) an experimental company will quickly emerge. Participating inventors, entrepreneurs, and VCs will each have shares in the company. Inventors may have less than VCs but this is in recognition of the relative risks being taken by each player. Inventors may only be asked to help refine the idea or optimize a prototype while VCs will eventually be invited to fund the growth of the company. First, everyone is tangibly rewarded for participating. Second, each player now has an incentive to keep paying attention. And finally, having a small share (and therefore small responsibility) allows forum members to participate across a wider range of opportunities, reduces their risk when an individual company fails, and gives them a chance to more highly leverage their individual capacity.

Start again

The riddle that needs to be solved is cash-flowing the forum while it innovates. There are years between innovation and market penetration – how to keep the process spinning in between? How to do this in a way the keeps all the great aspects of play? How to do this is a way that informs the process rather than threatens it?

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