America Lacks Meaningful Innovation
Web 3.0 and the Future of Innovation
America has a problem: we’ve abandoned the spirit of innovation. In an attempt to get rich quick and create a steady stream of auto-pilot income, young entrepreneurs have turned to derivative businesses with no long term value – casting aside the spirit of innovation along the way. The result is a multitude of clever but generally meaningless businesses whose sole purpose is to entertain and advertise. Allowing this mentality to further penetrate the heart of entrepreneurship puts the economic future of our nation at risk.
To better understand this trend, look no further than the flow of college graduates to Silicon Valley. Top grads from top programs flock to hot startups, many of whom have no business model or intention of significantly impacting the human existence beyond insincere entertainment. Data scientists are finding huge paydays working for social apps like Color, who raised $41 million of Series A funding even before its product hit the market. With that kind of money and talent, you’d think Color was next in line to cure cancer. Not true – It’s a photo sharing app.
The other end of the spectrum includes a multitude of college students and fauxpreneurs who are busy hacking search engines, selling back links, and participating in affiliate marketing. Famous VC Mark Suster recently expressed a similar sentiment of disgust when he said, “When I see young men in their early 20s doing mom blogs, I don’t think they’re in it for the passion.”
The problem I have with both these groups is that they are all extremely intelligent, clever, and skilled people who are spending their time and energy on projects that are more or less meaningless. We have a whole generation of entrepreneurs who dedicated themselves to figuring out how to get you to click ads. Jeff Hammerbacher put it best when he said, “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.”
Thankfully, this trend has not gone completely unnoticed by the media. In a fascinating and insightful article from Business Week, author Ashlee Vance explains why this tech bubble is different, in context of the lack of meaningful innovation. A skeptical voice is emerging in tech media as more and more articles begin to call this culture into question, but for many it falls on deaf ears.
While many of the best and brightest try their hand with media companies, the bane of the American economy – health care – is begging for talent and innovation. We’re also still facing a looming energy crisis and now the next wave of terrorism looks to be economic in nature too. At the same time commodity prices are rising, food supplies are shrinking, and whole cities are crumbling as jobs head overseas. There’s plenty of room for innovation, but instead we’re opting for the easy option.
If all we’re good at is getting people to click ads, how do we actually move forward as a nation? The frightening reality of a generation of search engine experts and affiliate advertisers is that all we’re doing is getting good at selling to ourselves. You don’t grow an economy and create jobs by selling to yourself; that’s just moving money around without a net gain. You grow an economy by reducing waste, driving down costs, and finding more efficient solutions to real problems in the physical world.
This isn’t a matter of social entrepreneurship or civic responsibility. You have every right to pursue a venture of any kind – that is what makes America great. In fact it’s the foundation of the American dream. If you want to sell backlinks, then sell backlinks. If you want to stuff your piggy bank through affiliate marketing, then by all means go for it. But do consider the fact that your derivative business creates no long term value for yourself or your country. Consider the fact that this is not innovation and it’s not the future. And finally, remember that a life of spam does not pay more than a life of innovation.
What is the future then?
TechCrunch TV recently featured a discussion with Tim O’Reilly and Reid Hoffman about Web 3.0. A point of disagreement in this fascinating discussion was about where the most innovation will occur in the future: in the physical or digital world. O’Reilly expects the next wave of innovation to happen in the physical world – a bet that I hope he wins. His argument is that in time the data scientists will eventually move back into more meaningful categories and bring a much needed dose of innovation to things like health care and energy (I’m paraphrasing).
The people that are using digital innovations to solve real world problems like energy, health care, agriculture, and transportation are ahead of the curve. I think we will see this Web 3.0 concept start to shift in their favor again soon. While we might not be in a tech bubble, we’re in a tech box. Somebody needs to kick down the walls and return to the true spirit of innovation before the house of cards falls on Silicon Valley and the rest of our economy.
What do you want me to do?
The reason why I’m sharing this is because I want to challenge you – and I want you to challenge others – to not settle for the path of least resistance. Affiliate marketing looks easy. Internet marketing is tempting. Apps and websites are sexy right now. But you can do so much more. Let your dreams wander past the temptation of the easy option and begin to explore grander opportunities that are truly driven by sustainable innovation instead of low value derivatives. Solve real world problems. Use your dreams, experiences, and abilities to apply technology to more than just getting people to click ads. Innovation is not an easy journey, but it offers a reward far greater than you could imagine. Do it for yourself. Do it for your country. Dream big.
Photo Credit: aussiegall via Flickr (Creative Commons License)