Mike Lee at The Next Web Conference 2011

What’s it take to get a message across? What does it take to distract a 400+ audience from their handheld devices polling an already flooded wi-fi network? And if you’ve managed to distract them sufficiently, how you maintain their attention sufficiently to inspire them with your top-level vision?

Stand on stage dressed as a pirate. And don’t be apologetic about it.

Mike Lee

Mike Lee did so convincingly during his Next Web Conference keynote on the future of technology.

His message was simple. To encourage his audience to think about technology in the next phase of its history. Making people think less about the constituent parts of technology – hardware or software, operating systems, programming languages.

Instead, we should all start thinking about the ‘thing’ which those constituent parts makes up. Think less about the innards. Think about the exterior. Design speaks louder than technology. Design has currency. The exchange rate on technology is a bit poor – because it’s everywhere. The thing we should be thinking about is the end product.

I’m riffing a bit. Mike Lee didn’t actually say all of that. His main focus was on the rise of the app. How we should be thinking about ‘the app’ in terms of identifying what we think the user wants and developing a suite of services within an app, rather than thinking about web browsers, databases, markup language and server side script. But just like what happens at these kind of events, when keynote speakers posit thoughts, the rest of us take the vision and run away with it.

That ‘running away with the original idea’ is what is important here. Because its ideas – not necessarily ground-breaking ideas – which sometimes need to be emphasised. And when they’re shared with open minds, the thought processes which follow can be quite liberating.

It gets people thinking away from limiting objects like web browsers or operating systems or one thing being compatible with one device and not with another. Instead it makes us look at a product which happens to exist in all sorts of places on all sorts of platforms, bubbling up to the surface in all sorts of different places.

And when you start thinking like that, technology isn’t the star of the show anymore. It’s a (necessary) backroom boy. The star is the product at the end of it. And the currency will be found in the potency of that product.

I spoke to Mike Lee after his Next Web Keynote. You can listen to the interview via Mixcloud. He has some interesting ways of dealing with ‘technology bullies’ too, an outlook which is perhaps borne out of his own view of life rather than merely a technique he’s fine-tuned in his working environment, I suspect. Altogether, an inspiring man, someone more than happy to share his vision and almost impossible not to get swept along by.

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