Tim O'Reilly: Create more value than you capture

This fantastic interview that Steven Levy did with my long-time hero Tim O'Reilly ran on December 21st, and I've been meaning to post it here since. Here goes:

Everybody wants to foster entrepreneurship, but we have to think about the preconditions for entrepreneurship. You grow great crops in great soil. And the soil is the commons. Increasingly, we have monopolistic companies that try to take as much as they can for themselves. And we have a patent and copyright regime that makes sure that nothing goes back into the commons unless by an extraordinary act of generosity. This is not fertile soil for innovation.

So many technologies start out with a burst of idealism, democratization, and opportunity, and over time they close down and become less friendly to entrepreneurship, to innovation, to new ideas. Over time the companies that become dominant take more out of the ecosystem than they put back in. We saw this happen with Microsoft. It started out with a big vision: How do we get a PC on every desk and in every home? It was profoundly democratizing. But when Microsoft got on top, it slowly started choking off the pathways to success for everybody else. It stopped creating more value than it captured.

I like this part, too, about trying to change government:

You run into opposition from the entrenched oligopoly of contractors whose business model is to extract as much money from government as possible for doing as little as possible.


The key output of Code for America is not apps, it’s culture change. The teams tackle projects that officials have been told will take years and cost millions, and they do it in six weeks. The people in government wind up asking, “What’s wrong with us?” It makes an impact.

And about changes to the book format:

So I think what will happen to long books is that people will have to get better at writing them.

About Silicon Valley's culture of playing the startup lottery:

I’ve seen too many O’Reilly employees who wanted to make their fortune and left for the startup world. And they joined two or three startups that proceeded to fail. I think of one guy who was so critical that I wasn’t making a fortune for him—now he’s a sommelier somewhere. There are way too many people in Silicon Valley who have a lottery mentality, and way too many people who won the lottery who shouldn’t have. I hope that they take their good fortune and use it for good.

Tim is a man that has always had a great way of combining heart and mind, technology and looking at the big picture and doing what's right.

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