POSTED ON OCTOBER 12, 2011:
Channeling Steve Jobs
T-town dynamics and the Apple wizard's path
As everyone with working ears in America knows, Apple cofounder and CEO Steven Jobs died some days ago.
I can't add to the feverish, often fascinating commentaries on his mammoth, electric impacts on technology, media, culture, the design and service world, business and arts/entertainment.
I will say, however, that this article is being produced by pushing an app button and speaking into my iPhone: my speech is quickly converted to an "unreasonably" accurate text file that I then email to myself for final edits and augments. Apple/Jobs didn't create speech to text technology but they've done a fantastic job of quantum jumping the concept, providing the deft hardware needed to exploit it fully and making it accessible via a delightful interface. I turn to my phone, think, talk and voilá!; I have a 1,000 plus word draft produced at many times my anemic typing speed.
What I want to do here is outline a little about what Jobs' passage --how his boundary busting voyage, neon imagination, singular outlook and bias toward risk taking could help shape Tulsa's future. Forbes business writer/analyst Eric Jackson wrote a memorable piece, some weeks ago, that encapsulates many of Jobs' best notions -- I've borrowed his framework:
Enduring Innovations Marry Art and Science
This one is a rich potential employment and growth spine for our area. The Oklahoma Institute for Innovation, to use one big example (one I've written about recently in UTW) is in the final stages of putting together a publicly accessible supercomputer in Tulsa. This ultra high performance computational hub would allow industrial/architectural designers, nimble engineering pros and artists and filmmakers to do rapid prototyping, animated films and other things that could transform T-town design work, parts of our aviation community, our performing arts cadre and local animation and film making.
Another example: Tulsa Fab Lab: a publicly available "micro-factory" where artists, business people, kids and gear heads can exploit lean fabrication and rapid prototyping. T-town Fab is a piece of what some observers believe could be the "re-shoring" of American manufacturing and it's a project we should emphatically support. And we should push for getting Tulsa manufactures to make T-towns Fab a portal for sparking our "maker" economy.
Another piece of our voyage to come entails supporting the work of contemporary Tulsa artists like roboticist/digital practitioner Geoffrey Hicks and photorealist painter/composer Michael Christopher -- they are sentinels for what we should accentuate.
You Can't Create the Future Through Focus Groups
Mayor Bartlett and some members of the Tulsa City Council wrapped part of this year's city's budgeting process, around a big citizens survey project undertaken some months ago.
Mayor Bartlett/crew garnered citizen perceptions of city services and service expectations, perceptions of quality, et cetera. Citizen surveys are good tools for finding out how people feel about offerings but they can reduce city priorities to Mickey Mouse games; apple pie expectations that really don't make sense fiscally or otherwise.
Everyone "wants more police", but is that the same as improving public safety? I'm not dumping on more robust forms of citizen engagement, like the great PlaniTulsa process which birthed Tulsa's new comprehensive plan. But PlaniTulsa went way, way beyond the kind of insight garnered from even the most rigorous, imaginative citizen surveys: surveys just don't have the "bandwidth" needed to fully inform action.
Fashioning more efficient, more responsive services at City Hall entails listening -- that is what democracy is about -- but it also means prototyping new ways of doing stuff and rethinking the way we've handled policing, civil engineering, trash, housing/neighborhood development, economic development, streets, citizen engagement etc -- and it means doing things that might not succeed initially -- something that is in deep Apple territory.
Surround Yourself With the Most Talented People
Downtown Tulsa is in the midst of a fulsome transformation. We are witness to a boom that includes lots of new rental units, a triad of new hotel projects, three large art/gallery complexes, a television station relocation, a couple of grocery ventures and the possible relocation of America's largest Unitarian congregation to the heart of the city.
All these projects stem from a spate of entrepreneurial energy wonderfully infused by people like restaurant guru Elliot Nelson: but the grand catalysts are the new downtown baseball stadium and the BOK arena. These mega projects are attributable to former Mayor LaFortune and his "step up" Vision 2025 program and former Mayor Kathy Taylor's aggressive, excellent execution of the 2025 projects and a bevy of softer efforts like Tulsa's business startup "Spirit" contest.
Arguably Taylor was the most effective Tulsa Mayor in a generation -- and like Jobs, she was insistent, a steely negotiator and often unwilling to take no for an answer. Part of our problem here is that we sometimes fail to value contributors who are exceptional, if also unorthodox.
We often fail to fully understand what's "happening" when it comes from people like Kathy Taylor, philanthropist Jayne Reed, developers Mike Sager and John/Tori Snyder.
Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish
Recently the Tulsa World did a "gotcha article" --a piece on an $84,000 expenditure for an Oklahoma presence at the recent Paris International Aviation show. Dr. Steven McKeever, Oklahoma Gov. Fallin's science and technology adviser took a crew to Paris to push Oklahoma as a great spot (we have R&D projects, a first rate unmanned aerial vehicle test corridor and lots of aligned human talent) for unmanned commercial aviation and a host of related emerging technologies -- stuff at the heart of the most explosive growth markets in aviation.
While $84,000 is, in the normal course of events, real money for working stiffs, it's a tiny amount. A small price to pay if an aggressive state presence at the Paris show could help link Oklahoma to U.S. and international firms with an interest in the aviation markets of tomorrow, or help us counter the layoffs that may come from American Airlines and its' big contractor posse. Aviation is a $12 billion industry in Oklahoma and employs almost 115,000 workers. It's ridiculous to get exercised about an $84,000 expenditure that might help us advance to the next frontier.
We have got to marshal the confidence needed to craft the best iteration of next Tulsa and scope out the next big things -- we have got to be much more ready for what Steve Jobs' called...one more thing.
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