MIT Media Lab Director at iHub Fireside Chat

MIT Media Lab Director, Joi Ito during the Fireside chat at iHub

MIT Media Lab Director, Joi Ito during the Fireside chat at iHub

The iHub played host to Joi Ito during yesterday’s fireside chat. And the room was full. It was a moment of significance. Why? Because Ito is not your usual guy. He is the Director of the MIT Media Lab. His choice to lead the media lab was called unusual in some quarters because, although Joi went to two universities, he dropped out before completing his degrees. This position has been described as one of the best jobs in tech. But that is what he does. Who is Ito?

Ito is a Japanese-American who was raised up and studied both in Japan and Chicago, US where he mingled with everybody, from drug dealers, thugs, the police to the good people. This, he says, is where he learnt the importance of community. At one point in his life, he worked in night clubs in the US, and later on used this knowledge to found and run his own club in Japan. He founded Japan’s first commercial ISP. He was an early investor in numerous companies, including Flickr, Six Apart,, littleBits, Formlabs, Kickstarter, and Twitter.

He has served as CEO and Board chair of Creative Commons. He sits on the board of The New York Times, The Mozilla Foundation, Knight Foundation and Sony Corporation among others.

He is an entrepreneur, activist and venture capitalist. At the age of 31, TIME magazine named him among its list of the “Cyber-Elite” in 1997. The World Economic Forum named him one of the “Global Leaders for Tomorrow” in 2001. In 2008, BusinessWeek named him one of the “25 Most Influential People on the Web.” In 2011, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oxford Internet Institute.

Ihub Fireside chat has played host to several, equally, influential figures in the technology space. Marissa Mayer, the current head of Yahoo, sat on the same spot that Joi occupied, when she was still at Google.

Ushahidi Executive Director, Juliana Rotich , who is also an MIT Media Lab Director's Fellow, moderated the chat.

Ushahidi Executive Director, Juliana Rotich , who is also an MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow, moderated the chat.


On Learning

Peer learning is what will make you grow into mainstream. Go to university, if you have nothing to do.

On Leadership

Emergent leadership – you earn and deserve the leadership, no one gives it to you

You should always question authority.

On Risk

Risk earlier in your career. Take risk well.

The cost of failure has gone down, therefore the cost of risk/trying things is cheaper now.

From Joi’s experience with risk in venture capitalism, 90% the companies fail. He bought shares in the 10% that succeeded when no one was buying shares and sold them when everyone wanted a piece. Buy low, sell high & have unfair advantage.

On Community

The community or social aspect around any technology is very important.

Joi says he dropped out of college and went to work because he felt working taught him more about community and human values than studying.

On the alchemy involved in creating a community. Choosing a person for a particular role depends on that person and the role the person is going to play. For example, in a staffing his ISP, he was looking for engineers who could wear suits and could go out and talk business.

On Africa(why he could bet on Africa)

Africa stands a better chance than the developed world because of the challenges that we face that need to be addressed.

There is a tremendous amount of talent.

Africa has the right culture. Places like iHub are attracting the right kind of people.

Africa’s unfair advantage is that it has not been over-invested in. There is the opportunity to build from scratch and certain categories have no incumbents.

Africa should get into bio and chemical engineering. What happened to software is going to happen in hardware & bio-engineering. It will be cheaper and faster to hack these fields.

Bio-engineering will not just be for big companies who spend billions on GMO’s, but also open source like malaria cures from Africa.

On how to ensure that hacking into bioengineering will not disrupt nature, those in this field should endeavour to find a way of their work becoming part of nature and not how to defeat it.


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