Anecdotes

The Clothesline Paradox

Tim O’Reilly is the founder of O’Reilly Media and an open source advocate since 1997. His delivered a talk at Picnic festival in Amsterdam. It started with a paradox, as a metaphor to understand what might have gone wrong with our economy.

When we quantify the energy consumption of a tumble drier, compared to hanging clothes out to dry, we consider the latter option as a zero energy one, as if the human energy needed would suddenly disappear from the system. What really happens is that we don’t monetize it and therefore we don’t consider it a cost. Something similar happens with innovation: real innovators start by doing things that matter to them, investing endless energy and time, but without monetizing. That is how great businesses like Apple or Twitter started: the monetization came afterwards.

What happened in the last decade is that producing monetary value became a primary goal, rather than a means to proceed or a side effect, but in these circumstances innovation is very rarely happening. “An economy is an ecosystem,” continues O’Reilly, “if you take more out than you put in, the ecosystem eventually fails”. He ultimately suggested that the only way to create innovation and keep the system healthy and sustainable is “sharing and creating value for others”.