11 May 2010

Innovators Isolation

One of the things that all innovators face at some level is a sense of isolation. By definition innovators are working on things that have never been worked on before. And they make up only about 2.5% of the population. If they participate in a specialized industry, it's pretty unlikely they'll get to work with other innovators in their field, never mind find someone who understands what it is they're so passionate about.

About four years ago I made a decision to attend four conferences per year. I consider it part of my ongoing professional development in two ways:

  1. Training - there are no formal training courses available for the skills I need for my work. I read any books that are available. Conference workshops and sessions provide me with the most current and relevant information about what other innovators are doing in my field.
  2. Connecting - when I attend a conference, I consciously choose to meet and connect with other attendees and presenters. I often get to connect with other inventors of some of the most exciting new technologies. It's typical to find folks exchanging ideas, talking about what we've actually done, what worked, what didn't work and we're thinking about for the future.  There are people who talk and there are people who ship. These people ship.

Next week I will attend Google I/O and later this year I will attend OSCON and possibly FOWA. Although I don't expect to find a workshop covering specifically what I am currently up to – such as privacy enhancing distributed enterprise service topologies or dataset forking technologies or probabilistic data linkage techniques - at these conferences, I do expect to find lots of people interested in the cutting edge of whatever it is they're passionate about.

I expect to find people who are daring to think differently. I will share my crazy ideas. I will hear other folks’ crazy ideas. I expect we'll have thoughts about each other's crazy ideas and I expect that after all that, we will acknowledge some of the ideas as crazy or just dumb. And some will seem not quite as crazy as they did before.

But more importantly, we will get the sense that we're not the only ones with crazy ideas, and we're not the only ones that have no idea what's on TV anymore, because we are working on something that we think is cool and could possibly even change the world.

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