You are a believer in “disruptive innovation.” What would that mean for us?
As a community, we are at risk of Group Think — the inability to see a different world, an inertia to maintain the status quo. A good part of our community has the belief that tourism is the “only” industry for Hawaii. Therefore, we invest heavily and singularly into tourism at the exclusion of everything else.
However, the world keeps changing and revealing new opportunities. This pandemic is a major disruption — but also an opportunity to finally shake us out of Group Think to develop an innovative new future.
What do you consider Hawaii’s primary economic hurdles?
It took Hawaii five years to recover from each of the last two economic downturns. A vaccine will take about one to two years; nationally, more than 40 million Americans are out of work, and it is projected that many jobs won’t come back. The net impact is a longer and slower recovery than most have ever experienced.
However, there are opportunities. It’s time to establish a “carrying capacity” and quality metrics for tourism in Hawaii. This would help Hawaii shift the conversation from “a great place to visit” to “a great place to live,” and will foster a healthier diversification of industries that would bring more direct benefits to residents.
A big hurdle is our narrow investment into tourism. We need to rebuild from the bottom up with policies that support education and infrastructure.
Any advantages that would help in rebooting the economy?
Hawaii’s biggest assets are its people and culture. Instead of Hawaii’s remote location being perceived as a liability for economic opportunity, the pandemic will underscore this as a unique asset.
The pandemic will result in an out-migration from concentrated and congested locations. This accelerates a trend that has been ongoing for a while, which is good for Hawaii’s interest in diversifying the economy. Now we need to create policies to enable this to happen with less friction.
As in any crisis, ideas that would otherwise be overlooked, receive attention. Hawaii has an unprecedented opportunity to reshape its economy. To build a diverse economy, however, we need to build strong critical infrastructure: reliable transportation, affordable energy and broadband, an educated population and a strong research university.
Your new book was written before the pandemic. Have any of your views changed as a result?
If anything, the ideas in my book, “Intellectual Anarchy,” have been reinforced — particularly the diminishing role of geography. The pandemic is accelerating this change as it encourages tech employment to shift away from current tech hubs, i.e., Silicon Valley, New York and Seattle, to places more suitable to quality of life, building on the things we have in abundance in Hawaii: environment, diversity and culture.
Big tech is in the midst of rethinking remote work — a game changer for the future of tech. Before the pandemic, there was significant investment to keep workers at the work site — free food, massages, laundry and pet services, bus transportation, etc. These perks will diminish as remote work broadens the geographic pursuit of talent.
What aspects of the tech sector could work well here?
History informs us that as methods and materials evolve, what was once impossible, becomes possible. Although Hawaii has some natural advantages such as ocean and astronomy sciences, we limit our thinking by confining ourselves to these arenas.
Oceanit’s engineers and scientists regularly deliver innovations that are geographic non-specific in fields like aerospace, energy and health care that have broad global market applications. In health care, our Anthronoetic Artificial Intelligence (AI) is enabling AI-designed, -engineered and -manufactured therapies, as opposed to current “needle-in-a-haystack” approaches to “discovering” new medicine.
The question, “What could work well in Hawaii?,” presumes limitations, which automatically precludes us from seeing real opportunity. A new economy requires new thinking and broader investment into engineering and sciences, entrepreneurship and creative competency — a basic core skill, as well as innovation in business practices.
Building a new economy requires that we open the aperture of imagination and creativity.