Manifesto | Techonomy » Conference 2010

techonomy (te-kän’-uh-mē) n. [tech(nology) + (ec)onomy]

organized activities related to the invention, development, production, distribution and consumption of technology-enhanced goods and services that a society uses to address the problem of scarcity and to enhance the quality of life.

Techonomy draws its inspiration from the ‘creative capitalism’ of Bill Gates, the ‘eco-pragmatism’ of Stewart Brand, the ‘big history’ of David Christian, and Bill Joy’s recent work on the economics of large-scale innovation. Each thinker in his own way points to a new humanism founded on the old notion that invention is what we do as a species. It is human nature to combine technology and economy to solve problems – to do so is both an opportunity and a responsibility. It’s who we are, and the only way we’re going to get to any solutions.

So here is what techonomy promotes: a rational, optimistic, forward-looking, technically savvy work ethic that celebrates technological achievement, human ingenuity, and sustainable living. Techonomic thinking is suited not only to inventors and entrepreneurs but also to people who work in major forward-looking institutions – Google, say, or McKinsey, or the Department of Defense, or the Federal Reserve. Indeed, the scale and scope of the problems we confront makes them too big for individualism or entrepreneurship alone – they require fast action on a very large scale. Techonomy embodies an engineering can-do spirit and emphasizes solutions that scale up. Yet as a mindset it is equally suitable and essential for even the smallest enterprises.

Techonomy celebrates the notion that humanity can invent its way out of the messes it has helped create. It also implies a social dimension that reaches beyond the rugged individualism usually associated with inventors and entrepreneurs. To overcome the entrenched interests that often stand in the way of the rapid implementation of newer, better solutions, we need not only clever physical innovations, but also social innovations that enable us to take advantage of and scale up technology’s potential. To bring about change on a meaningful scale, engineers and entrepreneurs must become, in effect, social engineers and social entrepreneurs, joining forces and using every available tool–such as internet-enabled social networking–to hasten change. Techonomic change is simultaneously top down and bottom up.

The implosion of the financial markets in 2008 and 2009 and the onset of deep recession blew holes in more than people’s pocketbooks. For the past 15 or 20 years we had looked to market forces to guide and reward our endeavors. Unleash those forces and heed the feedback they provide, the thinking went, and the market will deliver the greatest good to the greatest number of people. An entire generation trained itself to use market forces as its prism for understanding the world.

With the failure of market discipline, productive people now wonder where and how to focus their energy and ideas. They need a fresh rationale for enterprise and aspiration — a new philosophy of progress. There is also a sense that decades of environmental, economic, social and political bills are coming due, and they seek constructive ways to meet those obligations. The challenge is to transform disillusionment, diminished expectations and need for retrenchment into confidence and new hope.

Techonomy is not technocracy. It embraces free markets; they are a powerful accelerant of progress. Yet given the global scale of the problems we face–from the effects of climate change to the implications of having the human population entirely connected by cell phones and mobile computers in the near future–market forces and market solutions are insufficient. We believe that every business, government, and organization should embrace techonomical innovation as central to its structure and future.

David Kirkpatrick
Brent Schlender
Peter Petre

January, 2010


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