Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Celebrating the Simple

Tonight was the World Festival for the Imagine Cup. It was an incredible event--three pyramids as the backdrop and 440+ students cheering for each other. The Romanian team leader said it best, pointing to the pyramids, he said "what we didn't think was possible, is possible." Solving the world's problems is within our reach.

At the morning roundtable with the press on the Design for Development award, I said I saw new hope in simplicity.

The five finalists in this category demonstrated simplicity in three ways. First, that sharing bite-sized information can be powerful. Simple data delivered in short SMS messages to simple cell phones can provide meaningful information that leads to action, like "storm coming; harvest your rice crop now."

Second, manual paperwork can become more reliable and easier to find with a basic application. We learned this decades ago in established economies. Now simple PC-based applications, like medical record keeping in rural clinics, can do that for emerging countries.

Third, simple alerts can have a huge impact. We take for granted our meeting and task reminders in Outlook. For a TB patient, a simple text message can remind him to take his meds and avoid having to restart treatment.

Tieing it all together in a sometimes-connected world is no small feat. There is complexity in the new simplicity. But then again, this is about dreaming the impossible.

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