For the past seven months, the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce has supported “Innovate 2017,” a TechCrunch.com TV series hosted by author/speaker/Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur Andrew Keen. During this period, Andrew interviewed numerous leading thinkers across public, private and social sectors to “pontificate” about technology and innovation. When he attended our annual meeting in Providence on Nov. 20, he also interviewed Gov. Gina Raimondo for the series, as well as our board chair, Alden Anderson, Jr., Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor, and a number of other Rhode Island business leaders for a video series that we’ll be sharing with you over the coming weeks and months.
It was Andrew’s first time doing anything more than just “passing through” Rhode Island on the way to someplace else, and something awesome happened: He was blown away by the promise of our little New England state and in particular by our governor’s intellect and impressive background, calling her “incredibly smart and dynamic” and comparing her to another personable government leader he’s interviewed, Emmanuel Macron. By the time Andrew had completed his immersion in all things Rhode Island, I felt compelled to turn the tables on him, interviewing him about his impressions of our state. They are as follows:
· Rhode Island offers the real deal: “The geography is incredibly rich with potential, at a time when geography is increasingly important. Digital pundits have argued that we’re in a post-geography, post-physical-space era—that it doesn’t matter where we are. In spite of those predictions, made goods and physical goods like vinyl LPs and books have become more valuable, and talent has congregated in places like New York and San Francisco. What digital has done is created an abundance of information, which has generated a new scarcity—attention. There are infinite amounts of movies, music and content online, but it’s no coincidence that young people are embracing the physical. And in spite of that fact that we can now speak or meet with anyone digitally or virtually, physical meetings, like TED conferences, have become increasingly valuable. Digital doesn’t replace physical engagement. Scarcity of the physical is one of the realities of the 21st century. It turns out, place does matter, and Rhode Island is an excellent place to be. We need to get people to experience the state firsthand; you have a wonderful state and a wonderful governor.”
· The size is right: “What struck me, when taking the train from New York to Rhode Island and from Boston to Rhode Island, is that it’s really not that far. This is important—not only because of the state’s proximity to major urban centers, but also because of its size. Small, vibrant, flexible places will have huge value in the future as opposed to sprawling empires. The 21st century will be owned by smaller places like Singapore, Estonia and even Rhode Island. Rhode Island, being small, becomes a meeting post; it can play a central role on the U.S. eastern seaboard, but also globally. As America changes, places like Rhode Island have great potential.”
· Its industrial pedigree bodes well for its digital potential: “Rhode Island was at the center of the Industrial Revolution, boding well for its potential as a player in the digital revolution. This is especially true now that Silicon Valley is in crisis in so many ways, and people are bored with it. I think there’s something to what Steve Case has written about with “the rise of the rest” and our country’s emerging startup ecosystems. Rhode Island just needs to roll its sleeves up. Your success is about the rejuvenation of America.”
· Design is Rhode Island’s differentiator: “One unique attribute in Rhode Island is design thinking. It’s absolutely essential; you can’t commoditize design or human creativity. In the age of the algorithm and A.I., anything that can be crunched will be crunched, but design rests on human creativity. Design, storytelling and the creation of empathy and relationships will become the most valuable scarcity.”
· Our governor is an asset: “My interview with Gov. Raimondo was one of the most successful that I’ve done. It generated a lot of positive buzz. People were impressed with her—how smart she is, her business-orientation, and they wanted to know more about her, especially these days with the explosion of gender in politics. It’s important for the state to leverage the governor’s vision for the future. Her background as a venture capitalist and her understanding of the investment landscape also needs to be stressed. It’s a compelling story, and it needs to be told repeatedly.”
· What’s hot for 2018: “My new book [How to Fix the Future] comes out in February in the U.S., and on TechCrunch this year, we’ll explore solutions for a lot of the themes we pursued via Innovation 2017 around women’s issues, justice in technology, new technologies and algorithms that reflect biases—2018 is the year of solutions. Rhode Island is interesting because it doesn’t focus on problems, but instead on mapping out the future.”
Find Andrew Keen’s interviews with Rhode Island business leaders—ranging from Verizon’s Donna Cupelo to CCRI’s Dr. Meghan Hughes to BCBSRI’s Kim Keck and RIC’s Dr. Frank Sánchez and many more—on the Chamber’s web and digital channels in the coming weeks and months.