Any strategy going forward must lead to the next set of big ideas about how to reinvent America in order to thrive in our 21st-century world. How do we transform our economy? Our society? How do we govern ourselves, given the new realities of the world around us? How do we operate when everything is going digital and all information is interconnected? When all systems are going global? When everything needs to become sustainable because we’re slamming up against climate change?
I’m talking about a scale of reinvention that the country has gone through only a handful of times in our history. What we did coming off the Great Depression and World War II to build the post-war systems that we’re still largely living in today. Or what we did at the turn of the 20th century that was the Progressive Era. Or what we did after the Civil War. These were all moments of fundamental reinvention where almost all systems got remade to fit the new realities of their eras and then reigned for the next 50 years or so.
The good news is that we have astounding new technologies and an unprecedented set of tools to scale up that level of innovation almost overnight. The past 20 years has seen the inexorable spread of digital technologies and the building out of higher and higher bandwidth. Now all devices have embedded digital cameras. Almost all of the country has high bandwidth connections. And, most significant, some of the leading companies of Silicon Valley have made massive investments in next generation collaboration tools and the new software of group video, which allows as many as ten people (and soon more) to connect through their computers and work face-to-face.
Right now early adopters are just playing around with group video, but these platforms are ready to be leveraged for complex collaboration on a scale never seen before. All serious work ultimately requires the nuanced, comprehensive, emotional communication that comes through face-to-face conversation. Platforms like Google Plus and its video “Hangouts” are now able to offer what happens in meetings in every building in every city around the country every day.
My strategic advice? Use this next generation of group video and collaborative tools to come up with a new wave of ideas that would enable us to reinvent America and help lead the world into the all-digital, fully global, more sustainable 21st-century. This effort would go way beyond what was possible in 20th-century-style physical think tanks in Washington DC and New York, where at most 100 or so full-time fellows could work in the same building. You could use these technologies to connect thousands of Americans with expertise in many different fields. People who best understand the future of sustainable food production are recruited for one working group. Those who know clean energy here. Those focused on transforming education there. The beauty of these technologies is that you can parallel process to handle work in many different fields and scale up large numbers of people to distribute the load. With those numbers you can get another level of sub-groups going deeper into the details.
These technologies will enable a true meeting of some of America’s most creative minds. They don’t have to quit their day job and move to DC. They don’t have to take long stretches of time off work to fly to physical meetings. They just can just open their laptops, log on, join the others, and talk. Their civic involvement can be woven into their regular lives.
Let’s call on their sense of civic duty as we did in the mobilization for World War II or in the Progressive Era. Many Americans are yearning for a way to contribute to revitalizing the country and once again leading the world. These technologies allow them to get involved like never before. It’s something that would have blown the minds of FDR and Woodrow Wilson, yet it’s just waiting for us to put to good use today.
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