Q&A with Speakers at iMeme

This past week Fortune magazine held an invite-only tech conference called iMeme, where business executives met to discuss current issues regarding how technology is vital to the future of their company's growth. Prior to the event technology editor David Kirkpatrick asked some of the speakers to answer some questions that I thought were rather insightful. Here are some of the highlights I picked (via Fleishman Hillard).

Jonathan Schwartz is the CEO and President of Sun Microsystems, a guy I look up to for his remarkable business strategy. He received much attention earlier in the year for blogging on blogs.sun.com and his company's revolutionary data center in a box dubbed Project Blackbox. I also found it interesting that such a large business figure thought Twitter, a microblogging service of sorts aimed at the hip web culture, was the most surprising viral idea of the year.

Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz
Photo credit: Peter DaSilva for The New York Times
1) For you personally, what technology has taken the most unexpected turn in your lifetime?

The telephone. I remember when they used to be attached to walls. I remember pay phones, too. Now mobile phones are literally everywhere. There are billions of them around the world, and they've become the dominant device through which people experience the Internet. Via SMS, social networks, maps, bank accounts, music or news -- even camera phones dwarf the number of stand-alone cameras. People fight hard to communicate with one another; now they don't have to fight quite so hard. Mobile devices, and the services delivered through them, will only become more interesting and valuable.

2) What, for you, has been the most surprising infectious idea of the past year?

Twitter, a service to connect people across the world in 140 characters or less. Who would think they could build millions of registered users, send hundreds of millions of SMS messages, or start to build a distribution network that advertisers and media companies had to begin paying attention to?

3) What really drives innovation in technology?

Courage. Courage to challenge conventional wisdom, to wholly commit to an idea or ideal, to lead and inspire those around you, whether they're collaborators or customers.

Eva Chen is the CEO of Trend Micro, an antivirus and security company you've no doubt heard about if you run a PC, or even a Mac for that matter. Here's what she had to say.

1) For you personally, what technology has taken the most unexpected turn in your lifetime?

Computerized video games. I never imagined that the computerized game could become something for my mom's generation, and could link with health and exercise ... but the Wii phenomenon really surprised me. When my mother's doctor prescribed a Wii console at home for my mom to exercise every day to cure her back pain and occasional depression, it turned out that she really liked it! What an unexpected technology turn in my lifetime -- from the invention of Pong for bored boys, through to the Wii for active grandmothers!

2) What, for you, has been the most surprising infectious idea of the past year?

Instant two-way communication was the infectious idea ever since the Internet came alive, because it unveils the fundamental nature of the human being who wants to be connected, is afraid to be alone, and wants to be heard. So the most infectious ideas during the past decade have always had something to do with two-way communication -- cell phone, email, instant messenger, SKYPE, blog, SMS, YouTube, MySpace and more. But for the past year, unfortunately, it is Web threats that have taken over and taken advantage of these advances. Hey, the idea of making money by using other people's computers has spread, through the use of Web downloaders, rootkits, spambots, clickbots, and phishes, and that industry has grown from nothing to estimates of more than eight billion dollars in two years. You must admit, it is literally and figuratively a very infectious idea!

3) What really drives innovation in technology?

What drives people to innovate in technology is the need to overcome human limitation -- people cannot fly, so innovation leads to the airplane; people cannot see the world past a wall in their room, so video and TV are created; people cannot hear farther than a mile, so the phone is innovated; people cannot memorize more than a book of names, so here comes a PDA ... it is all about overcoming the human being's limitation!

Therefore, to drive innovation in technology, we have to enable our teams to understand people's basic limitations. In my opinion, the best way to achieve and instill that understanding of people's limitation is to put a cross-functional, cross-national, cross-cultural team together, which enables them to see things from a different perspective, through a different angle, and that is when innovation happens! So, when I pull a Mixed Team together in the InnovationLab at Trend, and I hear a German engineer say to an American salesperson: "What? You mean you never can understand what that log means?" Or I hear an Asian marketing woman say to a hardware designer: "Don't you see I cannot lift that box? It is too heavy for my hands!!" Then I know that the innovation breakthrough is coming up!

Many of the other business leaders seemed to concur that the incredible proliferation of the Internet and self-generated content sprouting up on the web in the form of blogs, video sites and similar were breathtaking, with the exception of one; Microsoft SVP Yusuf Mehdi plugged Microsoft's work with Seadragon as the most surprising infectious idea of the year. If it had to be something Microsoft, I would definitely think it would be Silverlight, not Seadragon.

If you're interested in reading the rest, David Kirkpatrick has them. Also, here is an article discussing what else happened at iMeme.