In the early 1990s, I visited billionaire George Soros’ office in New York City to provide some direction on an investment his firm had made in a technology startup run by senior Israeli Air Force officers. Their technology was something akin to an iPod, and this was almost a decade before you could store your entire music collection on a device the size of a bar of soap.

The officers had the prescient concern that the internet was not designed to be secure and that this vulnerability would eventually lead to cybercrime and espionage. They believed there would come a time when we would customize the part of the web we needed and keep it secure in our own pocket. These brilliant innovators had a solution, except it was 25 years before we knew there was a problem.

Well, as they say on Broadway, everything old is new again.

Recently, the Federal Communications Commission decided to eliminate most of the net neutrality regulations that required broadband providers to inform customers about how they manage their networks. The commission is now led by Ajit Pai, the former legal counsel for Verizon. Apparently, this appointment isn’t seen as a conflict of interest.

The upside of this decision is that it may provide economic incentives for investing in innovations that improve network connectivity and speed. The downside is that it will cede control of who has access to the net, and at what price, to the largest broadband carriers.

While government officials and public advocacy groups are waging a war of words in the media, little attention is being paid to the opportunity this creates for more disruptive technology companies like that little Israeli startup from the 1990s.

In President Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress, he repeated his campaign pledge to spend $1 trillion revitalizing the nation’s infrastructure. But infrastructure is more than just roads, bridges, and airports. It’s also digital.

Over the past 50 years, taxpayers have invested billions in the development of the internet. That makes us majority shareholders. Why should the rights of the telecom shareholders be well represented with these changes to net neutrality, and not ours? It’s hard to imagine anyone investing in a company without some form of control or transparency. But that’s exactly what our government is now demanding that we do.

The convergence of delivery options such as cable internet, DSL, 4G wireless and satellite drives today’s competition. Add to this mix upstarts with radical new technologies, low-cost providers from other regions, and fluid pay-as-you-go business models, and the market looks very different than today’s oligarchy of sluggish behemoths.

But is the net really being deregulated? Are the barriers of entry really being lowered to encourage true free market competition, or are these simply different rules to protect the interests of a few incumbents? Look at who receives the best government contracts. They are not the most innovative companies. Instead, they are the largest. The fix is in.

If you’ve visited Delhi or Seoul lately, you probably noticed how much better their service is than here at home. These cities see their investment in digital infrastructure as an engine of economic growth. The number of high tech start-ups growing to over a billion dollars is also following this trend. They are now creating larger numbers of tech jobs faster than we are in the U.S.

Given that we can’t even get sufficient funding for passable roads and drinkable water, what hope is there that our government will adequately support the development of a superior digital domain? The irony is that smaller organizations are far more likely to introduce breakthrough innovations than their larger rivals because they lack the resources to compete on scope or scale. Ingenuity is all they have. They are the seedlings that grow into larger job producing companies.

When the next breakthrough communications technology emerges, we can only hope that people like George Soros allow us to invest in it. That way, we have a reasonable chance of being treated like shareholders, and getting some real return on our investment.

Jeff DeGraff is the Dean of Innovation: professor, author, speaker and advisor to hundreds of the top organizations in the world. Connect with Jeff on Twitter @JeffDeGraff.

This article was originally published on The Next Idea

Thirty years ago, University of Chicago Professor Allan Bloom published The Closing of the American Mind. The book deconstructed higher education’s failure to prepare students with the knowledge necessary to lead enlightened lives. Bloom’s emphasis on reading the Great Books was met with adulation by conservatives, who viewed it as a declaration of traditional values, and with condemnation by progressives who thought the work was a perpetuation of social class inequities.

What started as a discussion about “what every educated person should know” ended in a contentious debate about the virtues of meritocracy versus democracy, as if the two ideas were mutually exclusive. When I was a junior professor, I was certain that Dr. Bloom was just another misguided old classicist. These days, however, I’m beginning to wonder if he may have been right all along.

In any age, ideas are assembled, disassembled and reassembled according to their usefulness and whoever has the power to move them. For example, what the founding fathers considered inclusive would now exclude over half of our current population. So, over time, ideas get updated, like versions of a computer program. Each version is an extension or a complete reimagining of the previous one.

Innovation is built upon ideas of every hue – old, new, strange, obscure. They never seem to fit at first but with time, and a little luck, these ideas may actually hold up while the rest of our world shifts and shakes. Professor Bloom cautioned that cultural relativism would have us mistake the teetering edges for the unmoved middle. He saw Plato, Marx and Freud as the compulsory bedrock upon which more advanced ideas could be balanced by an independent mind.

What I think Dr. Bloom was getting at was is that it’s not about political doublespeak, spin doctors, or fake news. It is about the closing of the American mind. We no longer collectively possess the ideas, the range of lenses, or the apparatus to think clearly, freely and independently. The constructive conflict of classroom debate was replaced by safe spaces and trigger warnings, and with it went the courage to confront the mediocrity of second-rate ideas. Ironically, this has left us without the ability to rightly judge fact from fiction. Bloom predicted that there would come a day when many Americans saw the truth as relative. That day is here.

We have always had people who use ideas to swindle and deceive. But there have also been those among us who are not so easily fooled. They think deeply. They connect the dots. They recognize the patterns. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see these people and even harder to hear them.

So let’s start looking for the next idea by asking a few questions to those who actually know about the last idea:

Where have we seen an idea like this before?

When has this idea been tested?

How will this idea actually work?

Who is proposing this idea?

Why are they trying to advance this idea?

What are some alternatives to this idea?

Like Professor Bloom, I too believe that great ideas, like people, are works in progress. Perhaps the first step to uniting our divided nation is to reestablish a common ground. It may be that we need to retrace some of our past – to revisit the great thinkers – before we can reopen our minds and recommit ourselves to finding a way forward – together.

Jeff DeGraff is the Dean of Innovation: professor, author, speaker and advisor to hundreds of the top organizations in the world. Connect with Jeff on Twitter @JeffDeGraff.

This article was originally published on The Next Idea

It’s said necessity is indeed the mother of invention. Innovation is often born out of crisis or conflict – a war, a pandemic or a financial crash.  Sometimes the conflict can be constructive, like the invention of a new miracle drug. And sometimes the conflict can be destructive, like, for instance, a contentious election.

Recently, I was being driven from one client site to another across a southern state. My driver was an affable older fellow named Buster. On the radio, we heard a report about how thousands of young protesters had blocked the streets of Los Angeles. In rather colorful language, Buster said that the election was over and these people needed to get on with their lives. I responded that the election was over, but surely the conflict wasn’t.

He asked me what I meant, so I gave him an analogy. There are two types of games – finite and infinite. Finite games have winners and losers, rules, and time limits, like football and chess. But infinite games don’t have winners or losers, agreed-upon boundaries or clear endings. The central idea of the game is to keep playing it. Think about how skateboarders challenge each other with maneuvers of ever-increasing difficulty. There are no clear winners and losers, only the understanding that tomorrow they’ll be back at the skate park to have another go.

Obviously, elections are far more than a game, but the analogy works. So, I asked Buster, what would happen if he thought the election was over – a finite game – while those young protesters didn’t share his opinion, considered it an infinite game, and kept playing. He responded that they would probably create mischief like hacking web sites, leaking confidential data and maybe even trying to game the next election. I asked him whom these young protesters wanted as their president. He said, “That socialist Bernie or maybe somebody worse.”

It was becoming clear that we were at different ends of the political spectrum, but we were careful to keep the conversation amicable for the long drive. We talked about our families and the challenges of fatherhood. We discussed the galvanizing events of our lives as Baby Boomers – the Kennedy assassination, the moon landing, Watergate, 9/11. These moments focused our generation. They brought us together. They created the necessity for us to do things in a different and new way, for better or for worse.

I asked Buster if this election might be, in fact, a galvanizing event for these young protesters. He gave it some thought, said he didn’t know and looked concerned. We left it there and kept the conversation to fishing and football the rest of the way.

In 2015, there was a subtle change in our democracy. For the first time in almost a century, Baby Boomers stopped being the voting majority. Now it’s the Millennials, those who reached young adulthood around the year 2000. With time, this gap will get larger. Thus far, the crises of this younger generation have mostly not been event driven. Rather, they’re ongoing challenges – crushing student debt, high housing prices, finding healthcare coverage and getting jobs. This slope of downward mobility has been slow and almost imperceptible.

The last time an American generation responded to a slow-moving crisis, the result was the New Deal of the 1930s – a complete reworking of our political and economic system. Many of these social innovations are still with us, like social security, federal deposit insurance and unemployment insurance. But it’s possible that this election could become the Millennials’ turning event; the first real crisis of their generation that brings them together. Now, of course, there are diverse voices in each generation.

The other question is which side Generation X will take – the boomers or the millennials. Those born between 1960 and the early 1970s are the smallest generation America has ever produced. But as the Boomers fade, it’s Generation X that will tip the scales of the next few elections. They are the ambassadors, translators and emissaries of the generational culture wars. They will decide whether the changes and innovations will be constructive or destructive.

Neither Buster nor I know how this game plays out. What I do know is that the game goes on and how we win in one round will often determine how we lose in the next. Let’s hope that all sides take the long view of this infinite game we call democracy.

Jeff DeGraff is the Dean of Innovation: professor, author, speaker and advisor to hundreds of the top organizations in the world. Connect with Jeff on Twitter @JeffDeGraff.

This article was originally published on The Next Idea