A Conversation with Tim the Enchanter

I’m going back to the SXSWi mega-event in Austin next month for one big reason and lots of other ones. The big reason is to have the chance to talk on stage with Tim O’Reilly, one of the good guys and wise men of technology. I won’t embarrass Tim here by lauding him more than I’ve already done online; I just want to say that I’m grateful that he invited me to participate in his featured session titled “Create More Value Than You Capture.”

I don’t know how our onstage conversation will evolve, but I do know that I’m going to ask him to look back over his long career of watching, shaping, and explaining technology and talk about the patterns he’s seen. Who’s done a particularly good or bad job of building an ecosystem, and then keeping it healthy over time? What mistakes are we in danger of repeating in the near future? What has he learned from running O’Reilly Media?

I also want to broaden the conversation out to talk with Tim about the ‘crisis of capitalism.’ What’s not working well at present? What do we need to change? What fault lines are visible now, and how worrisome are they? I’m an ardent believer in markets and free choice — in other words, in capitalism —  and I want to make sure that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater as we contemplate fixes, both in the tech sector and the larger economy. I’m fascinated to learn what Tim thinks; I learn as much when I disagree with him as when I agree.

We’ll talk at 12:30 on Monday, March 12 in Ballroom D of the Austin Convention Center. Please come; knowing Tim as I do, I can guarantee an interesting and lively session.

If there are questions or topics you really want us to touch on as we’re talking, please let me know via a comment to this post. Also, please let me know what you think will be the best parts of SXSWi 2012; I don’t want to miss them while I’m there…

Here’s the session description, as written up by Tim:

One of the great failures of any company – for that matter of a capitalist economy – is ecosystem failure. Great companies build great ecosystems, one in which value is created not just for a single company or group of industry players, but for partners who didn’t even exist when the product or service was introduced. Many companies start out creating huge value. Consider Microsoft, whose vision of a computer on every desk and in every home changed the world of computing forever, and created a rich ecosystem for developers. But as Microsoft’s growth stalled, they gradually consumed more and more of the opportunity for themselves, and innovators moved elsewhere, to the internet. Internet innovators like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter have also created a rich ecosystem of opportunity, but like Microsoft before them, they are leaving less and less on the table for others. This is a bad trend. Wall Street firms, which got their start trading on behalf of clients, then began trading against them, then created vast Ponzi economies to drain the value from entire segments of the economy are even more dire examples of this trend. But this crisis of capitalism goes beyond individual industry segments. For example, the race by companies to eliminate labor costs has been a short term profit win but a long term loss. Since the cycle of capitalism depends on consumers as well as producers, and consumers are less and less able to find employment, at some point, we’re going to have to start thinking about how to put people to work, rather than how to put them out of work. At O’Reilly, we’ve always tried to live by the slogan “Create more value than you capture.” It’s a great way to build a sustainable business and a sustainable economy.
Andrew McAfee, [co]author of Race Against the Machine, will engage with Tim about these ideas, and about how rethinking the economy becomes even more urgent in the face of the trend he explores in his book, in which jobs are being outsourced not just to low-wage countries, but increasingly to machines.

See you in Austin…