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What Should Fortune Brainstorm About?

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Last night, I attended a dinner hosted by Fortune magazine at the La Mar, a new-ish Peruvian restaurant in San Francisco. The dinner, which was emceed by Fortune magazine managing editor Andy Serwer, attracted more than 20 of the better-known technology industry insiders and investors, among them Alan Patricof (GreyCroft Partners), Marc Benioff (Salesforce), Ann Winblad (Hummer Winblad), Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), Ron Conway (Silicon Valley angel investor), Max Levchin (Slide) and Mark Pincus (Zynga).

Fortune editors wanted to find out what was on the mind of technology insiders so that they could craft the right agenda for their Brainstorm Tech 2009 conference, scheduled for later this summer in Half Moon Bay, Pasadena, Calif from July 22-to-24. The discussions were wide-ranging and the topic suggestions, diverse.

Gina Bianchini, CEO of Ning, believes that even people who find themselves unemployed are unlikely to give up their $50-a-month broadband connection; after all, it’ll be a way for them to find bargains, hunt for jobs or seek out cheaper apartments. She thinks more time will be spent online, including on social networks. Recent upsurges in the usage of Twitter, Facebook and other such services offer a good proxy for Gina’s predictions.

It was also suggested at one point that this downturn would be the end of licensed packaged software. And some think we’re on the cusp of personalized medicine, thanks to the availability of diverse biomedical resources and their marriage to ever-cheaper computing. But by and large, the focus was on our government, in particular the bailouts and the impact of the credit crunch. And most expressed belief in the power of innovation and optimism.

Just to be clear, being a devotee of technology, I am still an optimist, just a more pragmatic one. My view is that most of us (including myself) who live very comfortable Silicon Valley lives don’t quite grok the current economic crisis and the sociological upheaval it’s unleashing across the world.

My view stems from the fact that an increasing number of people live in sub-human conditions. Others, thanks to closing factories and moribund economic activity, are losing jobs and facing their own bleak futures. These are bad tidings that could result in chaos. However, just like the Renaissance followed the dark and chaotic Middle Ages, we will see a revival. Call it Renaissance 2.0 or whatever, but this adversity is going to result in an innovation boom.

I plan to write up some of the individual conversations I had as blog posts, but I first want to take this opportunity to ask you guys: What are the big themes that Fortune should cover at its Brainstorm Tech 2009 conference?

22 Responses to “What Should Fortune Brainstorm About?”

  1. It’s more than just a discussion on technology. We may be at a very important inflexion point:

    * Brainstorm about how the emergence of an entire new industry devoted to preserving the wealth of the entrenched against the growing poor might provide new careers in security, personal tracking, civil lawyers, behaviorial psychology, border fences and an increasingly technologically sophisticated police force.

    * Then brainstorm about the importance of how technology can be used to ensure free expression and civil liberties, and how we might find better ways to employ people in productive and rewarding vocations while seeking an economy that allows for more evenly distributed wealth: it is a not a zero-sum system.

  2. @canton

    these are two interesting big themes.:

    1. Why doesn’t Fortune start talking about how globalization has been a race to the bottom?
    2. Or they need to brainstorm about how the US living standards are going to be completely different within 5 years.

  3. @Tom Vellaringattu

    Actually they didn’t ask for ideas. I am actually asking you to be the guys to put together a list for them to ponder about. I don’t really work for them. I used to for Business 2.0 but I have friends at the magazine who are earnest in putting together the best kind of conference with more relevant content. I think that is a laudable idea and needs all our support.

  4. dalmatan

    Two themes .. is ATT the new GM? Can they actually survive the next 3 years financially? Think about it ..look at their debt structures.

    Stop focusing on on the consumer communications market there is some real innovation in Enterprise Communications etc SIPtrunking etc.. UMA etc. Can Avaya and Cisco CallManager survive in a mobile centric environment.

    Why are there no enterprise docking stations for mobile handsets ..speaker phone, hold transfer etc.

  5. Canton homes

    Health coverage and the future of social networking seem to be two hot buttons these days. Or why doesn’t Fortune start talking about how globalization has been a race to the bottom? Or they need to brainstorm about how the US living standards are going to be completely different within 5 years.

  6. I miss my monthly Business 2.0 magazine, killed off and replaced by Fortune. Every month my entrepreneurial spirit was renewed, energized and empowered. Technology will be our savior and that’s where Fortune should focus – writing great articles from the basements, garages and laboratories where new technology will emerge

  7. partywedo

    Many of Fortune’s long time readers can relate to this one thing:
    Every day huge pools of Baby Boomers are seeing their children leave home and disperse to all parts of the country. These Baby Boomers have huge financial resources but they have little power over the tyranny of distance. They want to find ways to stay connected with their children. They have hovered over these kids for years and have experienced hundreds of life-events together in their 20+plus years together. Now they are looking for a good way to maintain the relationships they remember, while still giving their children their space.
    Fortune should discuss how to keep the largest demographic group in history connected to their millennial children.

  8. Fortune is asking the wrong people for ideas. These are the people who brought us to this condition. I do not believe people in Silicon Valley get any clue about the national problem related to unemployment, lack of health care and the country inching towards poverty. Also planning for a $2000 a day event is a no go in this economic conditions which only the so called ‘think tanks’ can attend wasting there corporate money. Hope they start a discussion group on or on their own site to get the real pulse of America.

  9. Health Insurance group buying pools: Many of us entrepreneurial types and consultants for startups who previously worked at big companies such as Apple and HP were able to get terrific insurance at the big companies but ridiculously bad insurance as individuals (costs much more, covers much less, and prone to lead to bankruptcy if a bad illness occurs in the family). Cobra lasts 18 months, then your on your own, even if your perfectly wiling to keep paying the high Cobra premium. Why can’t thousands of us entrepreneurial types and consultants (same demographic as the big companies) pool our buying power together to get the same sort of health insurance coverage offered by big companies such as Apple and HP? Is there a law against this, or law allowing insurance companies to collectively refuse to serve arbitrary buying pools? If so, it’s a dumb law. If not, then this seems like the perfect opportunity for an online service to help organize large buying pools for group health insurance.

    Friends from Canada and the U.K. tell me it’s absurd how cruel and arbitrary our health insurance “system” can be. Could it be that it’s as dumb, corrupt, and self-destructive as our financial and mortgage systems proved to be? And yes, excessive greed is part of the problem:

  10. How abstract do you want to go. I mean you can go from:
    Distinguish between Data and Information processing (Today and Tomorrow)
    Or just sum it up with:
    Information/Data overload

    If that is to complicated:
    The echo chamber of Silicon Valley also known as me too.

    Some were in the middle:
    Productivity increases of the past and future( company versus individual productivity increases )

  11. More. Why didn’t netbooks happen 5 years ago?

    What will Twitter look like 5 years from now? Netbooks?

    What’s the connection betw Twitter and mobile tech?

    Is 140 chars really magic? What about metadata? Will twits come with location data?

    What is the biggest innovation of the iPhone?

    Does the economic collapse keep you up at night?

    Will Om run for President in 2012? :-)

  12. Brainstorm this;NOT only American soil means of FORTUNE found,fortune magazine that the rest of USA also a huge goldfield they should cover up,the use of “accept only credit card make people who have the money who have yet access to credit card eager to buy,so If company like to more fortune. DON’T JUST stay AT HOME>MOVE OUT and explore Plan your seed there

  13. Knowing how effective Sillicon Valley’s VC teams are, I think they should use their influence to bring mass monetization to the online worlds.

    One such innovation and idea is And with a crisis that has extended its tentacles beyond American borders, there is a great challenge to create job opportunities for the ever-swelling ranks of job seekers.

    And then there’s the abundant skills that the job seekers bring on the market.

    For me, Fortune offers a powerful connection with a diverse global readership, making it a reservoir for ideas, especially for start-ups.


  14. Om the Blogger,
    Cheaper Wireless Broadband
    Solar Charged Handsets
    Cheaper Computing and Communications
    Low cost and make sense IT infrastructure – Get Cisco out of its constant and stale productivity driven claims
    Please do not use the phrase web 3.0.

    Note to Ning CEO: You obviously have not been to a public library lately and tried to use a library computer. In some libraries the wait can be more than 30 mins. People are canceling broadband. Anyone, remember Maslow’s theory, or does it not apply to web 2.0?

    Om my friend,
    Hope you are getting rest. Please reply to my e-mails.

  15. Abdullah Anwar

    Education, online has been a key market but not many start-ups and big companies have yet targeted it. Perhaps, that can really transform the world! I mean, given that college costs continue rise, it will be a good idea if we can work on education online and yet offer the same value…