John Cohn, mad scientist, These could be the first words that this IBM engineer says when shaking hands with the journalist, but he reserves this presentation for the end of the interview, in the form of a business card.
With his tousled gray hair and a rather thick beard, Cohn (New York, 1950) presents a gentle and serene character, unable to erase the smile on his face. On the shirt he wears a dark jacket instead of the colorful robe with which on several occasions he has nurtured the image of a careless genius that has cost him the nickname of the Yoda of the internet of things. It was precisely his appearance which led Discovery Channel to contact you to participate in The Colony, a reality show of survival in which, during three months and in a controlled environment, the contestants had to use the limited resources offered by the program to get water, food, electricity and defend against external threats.
"The program was really stupid, but it had something very interesting: they emitted all the experiments that we did, they went well or badly. And this is very positive, because, as a culture, we do not like to talk about failure, but it is part of the invention process, "he explains. In this sense, he also praises the work of Fuckup Nights, an initiative that brings people together to talk about how they accepted their biggest mistakes. "If you do not teach people how to fail and then try to make amends for what you have done wrong, you are lying to them about the creative process."
This does not mean that he himself is not afraid of failure. He recognizes that he is usually worried about how others see him and he ventures that this is the main reason why society avoids going out of bounds: for fear of what they think of them when they make a mistake. "We have to think like children, enjoy what we do focusing on the present moment, without calculating what will come next," he says.
The engineer extrapolates his thinking to the corporate environment and adds that when companies hesitate in the face of a disruption, they are losing valuable time. "If you do not move for fear of failing, in the end you fail from the beginning, without having started from the starting line, "he says. "Nobody is fired for making an honest mistake."
Cohn embraces this philosophy since he was a child. It is also true that the circumstances surrounding him could not have been better: he grew up in Houston (Texas) in the 60s, during the golden age of NASA. "I went to class with children of engineers and astronauts; everyone wanted to dedicate themselves to science. There I learned the intersection between being pretty freaky, having fun and working hard. "
Since then, he has always been a strong advocate of the importance of playing, of putting into practice any crazy idea that seems to prove empirically if we are truly wrong: a true apologist for the doctrine of trial and error. "Companies have to let people dirty their hands to explore their creative capacity"He says. "Normally, we have 100% of our time occupied, we follow a structure and work schemes that do not leave space for the game; We need more freedom to move forward with new projects. "
Nor are we doing everything wrong. Technology has enabled new tools that help people adopt a philosophy maker. YouTube, Vimeo or Slack have built an interesting ecosystem in which ideas can flow more easily. "These platforms and social networks allow you to communicate with anyone. If I have a question, I ask about Twitter and my followers can give me their opinion ", exemplifies. "Also, with the open data, you can mix versions that others have created to develop your ideas faster and let others use what you build to close the circle. "
Curiosity has led him to delve into technologies such as blockchain, open data and, of course, the internet of things. His intrusion into new fields is experimental in many cases and he admits that he always finds programmers better than him, but he vindicates the need to go where he is not called to create a prone environment for innovation. "When you do something that is cool, you create a virtuous cycle: the people on your team find a way to lend a hand, they learn from you and you learn from them. This is how technology spreads. "
And it can not deny that we live in the best time to do it: open data give almost unlimited potential to originality. "The best artificial intelligence is based on open data. By sharing information, hundreds of ideas can be carried out. It is absolutely exponential. "