Free (Technology) Agents

Had breakfast with a friend this morning who commented on the state of the economy in and around our neighborhood by saying that “there are many free agents available.” He wasn’t talking about the Yankees, Mets, Devils, Rangers, Knicks, Nets, or any other sports franchise that funnels ticket revenue into the hands of free agent players who haven’t delivered a local championship since 2003 (Devils, Stanley Cup). His perception was that with many technology people on the move, the market is ripe for new ideas coming to fruition in new (and old) companies; cyclical unemployment injects strategy and experience into companies that invest in newly available players. Friend’s summary comment: “In two years, we’ll see another wave of breakthrough innovations.” It would be an early indicator of technology helping the economy innovate its way out of the current slump.

Why would this work for technology companies and not sports franchises? Quite simply, the acquisition of a free agent is unlikely to change the basic strategy of a team or the rules of a game. Strategic changes in a game almost always result from a lack of talent, not the sudden availability of creative people.

In this current NHL season, the NJ Devils changed from a defensive-minded style to a goal-scoring, offensive strategy when goaltender Martin Brodeur suffered an injury requiring four months of recovery. Late San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh perfected the West Coast Offense (read Michael Lewis’ The Blind Side for a compelling story wrapped in a West Coast Offense) and forced strategic defensive changes in the game. And the grandfather of several current NBA offensive schemes is Pete Carrill’s Princeton Offense. What do all three have in common? They were designed to deal with a deficit of talent or skill: goaltending and first-rate defense (Devils), rushing (West Coast Offense), and height (Princeton Offense).

The barriers to entry for new ideas have never been lower: you can develop your idea using a wealth of open source software, deploy it to test in a cloud infrastructure and leverage social networking mechanisms to spread awareness. It’s a ripe environment for engineers to give us something (locally) to celebrate.

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