So I live in Israel. You know, The Holy Land, That Bad Place on CNN, or Start Up Nation, depending on your perspective.
For the uninitiated, Start Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle is a bestselling book about the phenomena of start up innovation in Israel. It's a weirdly fascinating read, even for non-techies.
David Ben Gurion, the founding father, the George Washington of Israel, if I may, once said "In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles."
Call the pope, because I would like to submit a miracle.
Take a person so mortally confused by changing the clock in my car twice a year that I leave it alone and make my own calculations, and plunk that person in the epicentre of tech innovation and watch her sort of -- slowly -- start to -- get it. A miracle has happened here.
I know I am not alone when I say that the start up business model and high tech are mind-boggling, time-travelarian, Ray Bradburyian melanges of Complicated Things that mortals dare not try to understand until we can buy said "tech" and stick it in a Christmas stocking with some erasers and an orange.
But in a strange turn of events, it is now my job to listen to tech innovation pitches, figure out what is actually going on, and translate that into human. I am rather good at it and why? Because I spent 10 years working with writers, another strange subset of humans, who think complicated things and try to tell them simply. I learned their language. I am a simplicity translator. I like things I can understand.
Tech guys are a hoot -- they really are -- smart and funny and interesting. But they speak a highly complex version of Klingon when they talk about their innovations. If you've seen Silicon Valley, you know what I'm talking about. This show is fairly accurate as far as I can tell. In fact, if you watch Season 1, episodes 4-7, you'll see where my part in all this is. It's painful viewing.
The thing about this environment -- this -- ecosystem -- is that it's incredibly, brain-hurting, fascinating. These guys are coming up with innovations to solve veritably every problem you have ever had and many problems you will have but you don't know it yet. It's amazing.
The thing I like best about being surrounded by so much creative, unconventional thinking is the ethos that these guys and gals seem to swim in -- there is no problem or challenge that cannot be solved through thinking different. Differently. Gah. I always hated that. You get me though.
For me, this is incredibly uplifting because I'll be honest, I get pretty down about the state of things in the world. Things are not the same as the good old days of my youth, with Vietnam, Watergate and all. Sometimes it feels like we've got ourselves into a real pickle.
But look at DeMos, an innovation come up with by high school kids in Nairobi, to help eradicate malaria. I saw a presentation about them at the Citi Mobile Challenge and was on the floor along with everybody else, that such a simple solution, that might just change the world was come up with by these young kids.
Look at Million Times, a Japanese start up based in Tel Aviv (mind blown yet?) and how they are providing a space for start ups to pitch to investors. That's so meta I had to sit down for a minute.
Take this solution for homelessness in Utah - the homeless were housed - think of it! Whether it's tech innovation or solving social problems, innovation means seeing what is right in front of you the entire time.
It's like that famous picture. Is it a witch? Or is it Abraham Lincoln? No wait - that's, hold on, right, right, the weirdly tense lady with a big hat. Or a witch.
Anyway. Point being that it's all in how you look at things.
I met a kid at an accelerator in Nazareth who has an innovation that could totally change the way you use your spare time. I can't divulge more upon pain of death. Suffice to say not only does this kid have a shot at greatness and wealth, not only am I going to be a very early adopter, but he was among many at that particular accelerator who had mobile apps and software platforms, every one of which would make your life and mine more efficient and pleasant.
Not to mention the innovators at the Tel Aviv University Accelerator. Accelerators all over Israel are settling their soft feathers over nests of - wait that got weird - grooming, yeah let's go there - grooming genius innovations. Did you know that tech is fully 15% of the GNP of Israel?
Where does this totally unconventional thinking come from? Many of these innovators come from the Sponge Bob Squarepants, text-while-eating generation. We have, it seems, grossly underestimated them.
In this increasingly cooked up world, where so much seems to be happening as a result of earlier bad decisions, greed or recklessness (no finger pointing British *cough* Empire, Soviet *cough* Union and so on) it is nothing short of miraculous to come up with solutions that are often, end of the day, quite simple. If you have a brilliant mind. Eat your Wheaties, kids, and find something to disrupt.
Although since I saw Ex Machina, I have a pathological fear of AI and weirdly tense guys with beards, I am able to set that aside and say that I think that technology, and not just technology but truly innovative thinking can do more -- much more -- than solve problems -- it can change the game completely. I mean, the whole game. Whole thing.
The skies above Israel are streaked with jets coming and going from places like Berlin, Istanbul, Greece, London, Tokyo and New York as investors and innovators journey to Start Up Nation for the hummus and stay for the mind blowing thinking.
That I'm from the generation that still thinks it's pretty cool to be able to walk around -- outside -- with a phone -- and who also sees the value, the real value and magic in an Etch-a-Sketch ™, makes me, in many ways the perfect person to be let inside the beautiful minds of techie people, roam around like Lewis & Clark and then report back to the outside world something that they can understand and get excited about. Because what these guys are doing blows my mind.
Now if you'll pardon me, I need to find the missing pieces of my Lite Brite™ and make like an artist.