Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

December 2010 Archives

When I joined the board of Creative Commons in January of 2003, I thought I'd just be "helping Larry out with his cool non-profit." I was a huge Creative Commons fan, but not a law professor and wasn't really sure exactly what I'd be contributing.

As Creative Commons continued to evolve from a very cool idea to a critical part of the sharing infrastructure, the organization continued to grow and thrive and I became more and more involved. In December of 2006, the board appointed me to Chairman of the Board and I worked closely with Larry who was CEO at the time and the board, working on strategy, fund raising and continuing to develop Creative Commons.

In 2008, Larry announced that he wanted to shift his focus to fixing the corruption problem and would continue to serve on the board of and work closely with Creative Commons, but that he wanted a successor for the CEO role. In April of 2008, not being able to find a suitable full-time CEO, I was appointed by the board to be CEO and board member.

The CEO role at Creative Commons has been an extremely exciting, but challenging one. After running my incubator, Neoteny, through the crash of the Internet bubble in Japan, I had vowed not to take operating roles anymore and focus on investing and board positions. Also, I was not sure about my ability to run an organization in San Francisco with my insane travel schedule. Finally, I wasn't completely confident that I would be able to wrangle all of the nuanced complexity that Creative Commons sits at the nexus of.

I took over the role of CEO just as Creative Commons was evolving from a visionary leader and board driven organization to a staff driven organization. The vision of the organization stayed unchanged, but the day-to-day operations of the organization were becoming increasingly complex and voluminous as our adopters began to increase in number, scope and in geography.

Partially due to my lack of physical presence in San Francisco and mostly due to the amazing quality of the Creative Commons team, the staff and management team at Creative Commons picked up the slack and worked with me to build an excellent organization. Because of this, I was able to focus a great deal of my energy on the external and international relationships. While a lot of the work that Creative Commons accomplished were milestone adoptions like Wikipedia, Al Jazeera and The White House, a huge amount of the work that the staff accomplished was expanding our international network of partners and putting together an excellent organization with great teamwork, a solid back office system and a first class work ethic.

I'm really proud to have been a part of this transformation.

However, as the challenges for Creative Commons become even bigger and more exciting and as we begin another chapter in both our strategy and fund raising, my part-time non-resident CEO position was clearly suboptimal.

Cathy Casserly was our program officer at Hewlett, which funded the initial growth of Creative Commons. Cathy is the godmother of the Open Educational Resources movement. After we recruited Cathy to join the Creative Commons board, I have been working closely with her on fund raising, strategy and generally getting her advice on many things. Cathy is strong in all of the areas that I am weak. The added bonus is that she lives in the Bay Area.

Over dinner at the last board meeting, I casually asked her whether she might consider being CEO of Creative Commons. To my surprise and excitement, she said she'd be interested.

Since that initial discussion, we've been working hard trying to figure out how all of this will work. We still have some details to work out, but Cathy will be taking over the CEO role of Creative Commons and work day to day in the Bay Area office.

I will continue to serve Creative Commons as the Chairman of the Board and I think that as a team, Cathy and I can cover many of the bases with the support of the staff, board and our amazing network of affiliates around the world. I will continue to work on international projects, the Middle East and venture innovation and Cathy will bring her deep expertise in education and the foundation work to the organization.

Most importantly, Cathy is an amazingly warm and thoughtful person that I've grown very close to and I'm super-excited to be working with and am sure will be a perfect fit for the staff in the Bay Area and our global network of the brightest and coolest people I know.

View from my hotel room in Lavasa

Yesterday, Mizuka picked me up at Narita Airport and we stopped by Doutor Coffee for breakfast on the way to our house. As we sipped our small, slightly boring coffee with our perfectly shaped sandwiches, I noticed a quality control staff member taking the temperature of all of the drinks he was served, measuring the distance between the items of food on display and using a stopwatch to time each activity of the poor girl working the shift. I watched this insane obsessiveness as I tried to explain my India trip to Mizuka.

The INK Conference in association with TED was organized by the amazing Lakshmi in Lavasa, India. Lavasa is a new development in the mountains on a beautiful lake. It is a kind of walled garden community that has just opened. Many of the speakers received an email from an NGO asking us to boycott the conference because of the ecological issues caused by the development and the displacement of indigenous people who lived there.

As someone concerned with these issues and as a board member of WITNESS which is fighting against forced evictions, I was very concerned with these allegations. Unfortunately, we were all notified in the 11th hour after everything had been booked and paid for. I scoured the Internet and talked to the organizers and I was unable to conclusively determine the scale of the problems so I made the decision to attend the event and talk to people in the region directly and make up my own mind about Lavasa.

The tricky thing about force evictions is that even if something is legal, it's not necessarily ethical or right - usually the people who are displaced unfairly don't have the law on their side. On the other hand, it's very hard to determine what is "fair" and what the value of a development is on a local economy. I'm still digging into the issue of Lavasa and will write a follow up post if I find out more, but I wanted to note here that I took the issue seriously and am not "brushing it off".

This was my fourth time in India and I've slowly grown to be prepared for the somewhat chaotic nature of logistics and other things and try to go with the flow. This trip was probably the most "successful" trip I've made to India - while I had minor logistical hiccups, it was relatively smooth considering Lavasa was a 4-5 hour drive from Mumbai.

On the trip to Lavasa, I shared the car with Anand Kumar. Anand is a math teacher from Patna, Bihar who teaches math to extremely poor people. His school has had an amazing 212 students who have been accepted to the Indian Institute of Technology.

I attended more session than I normally do at conferences although I missed a few because of conference calls and naps. The stories were great and I really enjoyed meeting so many people who risk their lives every day to do good. I met the amazing Sunitha Krishnan, the anti-trafficking activist fighting against girl child trafficking for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. She risks her life every day as she organizes rescue missions and runs a facility to rehabilitate those she saves. It was humbling and a great experience to share time with people like Anand and Sunitha and hear their thoughts about the world.

There were other great social entrepreneurs and inspiring people. There were many old friend as well as new "keepers" that I met. The atmosphere, people composition and the size was perfect.

Because of my logistics paranoia, I had the car leave 7 hours for the drive and I ended up with 2 hours extra in Mumbai. I met Roshan D'Silva via Twitter who gave me a quick tour of Mumbai and we had a great conversation over coffee. He took me to the beach and showed me how the "bottom of the pyramid" retail worked in Mumbai. It was fascinating and probably deserves a whole separate blog post. Thanks Roshan!

Whenever I leave India, I always end up comparing it in my mind to China and thinking about "the cost of democracy". India is messy, has slums, has its share of corruption, but it is democratic and democracy is messy and inefficient. On the other hand, China is extremely efficient and well organized at one level, but pays for this in a lack of political freedoms. It's not fair to compare the two countries too directly, but the contrast in their approaches as well as the potential of both countries is something that I look forward to watching as the scenarios play out.

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