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What I learned from the guy who invented the Internet


Who better than the inventor of the web to talk about innovation in the digital world?

CSIRO recently launched the Digital Productivity and Services flagship, a $40 million research initiative focusing on the services sector and optimising the full value of our national broadband infrastructure to help Australia grow and create $4 billion a year in digital services by 2025.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), presented at the launch and was part of a panel of thought leaders to share their views on innovation, productivity and the future of Australia. (You may remember him as the guy sitting at a computer in the part of that somewhat interesting opening ceremony at the London Olympics?)

In 1989, 20 years after the creation of the internet, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a software engineer from England, developed a new technology that revolutionised our world. Here are the top lessons I learnt from this pioneer.

Innovation begins with people that think, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…”

According to the inventor of the web, anything you can imagine can be done using a computer as an interface, and what we do is only limited by our imagination.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee believes that the main blockers to innovation are fear and talking about measurability and productivity rather than thinking big.

Big innovations did not begin with people saying, “Let’s get more productive”. They started with people who thought, wouldn’t it be cool if…

The ability to switch to a completely different mode of operation, to be willing to think, “What if”, to think big and be outward looking are at the core of innovation, and that’s how visionary people like Sir Tim Berners-Lee look at the world.

His advice: assume everything is changeable.

Manage like you’re in a bobsleigh

When he came up with the Web, just like with most new innovative technologies, he found himself in front of a wall. And at first, nothing happened.

Governments and entrepreneurial spirits appear to be key enablers to innovation as they have the ability to take research from lab to market.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s recommendation: Manage your product as you would a bobsleigh! Put people behind your product. Push it to get some momentum. When it starts going down the slope, accelerating and picking up more momentum, have people to direct it and keep an eye on it.

We live in a digital world where data must be shared

A few years back, the then English Prime Minister Gordon Brown asked Sir Tim Berners-Lee what the UK government could do to make a better use of the internet. His response: “Put government’s data on the net.” And, that’s what the UK government did.

It is often hard to convince people to put data online mostly due to a common fear for privacy and cyber security. However, the role of data, the ability to share data and the power to draw insights from data are essential, in particular to help a country grow and compete internationally.

Of course that raises the issue of the appropriate uses of data. Should we use facebook in recruitment processes? How can countries protect themselves? How can companies protect their IP?

At a personal level, Sir Tim Berners-Lee reminded us of how valuable data is to individuals. As an advocate of data sharing, he believes that it is a myth to think that the value of personal data lies in what large companies can do with it.

Using simple examples such as online education and health records, he showed how opening data to the world creates opportunities. Further, he demonstrated how connecting data makes data even more valuable, for example, Google Maps being integrated with public transport schedules.

Digital innovation will fuel Australia’s growth

Back in 1969, the internet was developed as a platform not knowing what it was going to be used for years later. The same way, when Sir Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web, he did it as a platform that does not dictate what runs on it. Now, new digital innovation is what will fuel the future of our economy.

We live in a vast country where equal access to digital will make a huge difference. With the roll-out of the National Broadband Network (NBN), we are heading towards a world where data is moved, not people. Making data accessible to all will increase productivity, new product development and efficiency. It will create smarter solutions and apply technology to improve the way services are delivered.

As 80% of Australia’s GDP comes from the services sector and Australia’s productivity is currently in decline, innovation and the digital economy are essential to help businesses and governments deliver services in a faster and more efficient way.

3D laser mapping used to map for disaster management scenarios, social media engagement tools, remote assistance for mining, athletes performance monitoring, remote health management, and new ways of learning through online education are just a few examples of digital innovation that will make a huge difference to our world.

Letting our imagination run free, inspiring to create and not being afraid to share, are the top lessons I learnt from the inventor of the web. From that will come new innovations that will promote growth and a better life for all, and take us to places we cannot envision, yet.


Marion Di Benedetto is Co-Founder and Managing Director at Love it UP. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.