TheBridge profile: Richard Whitt
Name: Richard Whitt
Current city: San Francisco, CA
Current job: Fellow in Residence, Mozilla Foundation; Senior Fellow, Georgetown Tech Law and Policy Institute; President, GLIA Foundation; President, NetsEdge LLC
Past job: Corporate Director for Strategic Initiatives, Google Inc
Q. Favorite spot for a coffee meeting? The Creamery (4th and Townsend, SF)
Q. Is there a skill you learned in a previous job that has helped you in your current job? The ability to live with a question, and all its uncertainty, before reaching for answers.
Q. Job advice in three words? Vision, then execution
Q. How are you (or your company, org, nonprofit) currently bridging the gap between politics and tech / innovation and regulation? Over my 30 year career in tech policy, I have endeavored to function as a translator between two disparate communities, of online technologies and public policy. While at Google, that role included conveying to national and global policymakers the great importance of an open Internet, and to Silicon Valley the challenging but necessary realities of the political process.
My new GLIAnet Project seeks to create a new Web ecosystem based on trustworthy and accountable intermediaries, and cool tech tools controlled by users. Such an ecosystem can work only if the business, technology, policy, and organizing elements work well together.
Q. What can innovators learn from policymakers? "Move fast and break things" is not a mantra that plays well with policymakers. The deliberate and often messy political game can seem maddening at time to a budding entrepreneur, but it deserves attention and respect. And by the way, not all "innovation" counts as "progress."
Q. What can policymakers learn from innovators? Experimentation can be a valuable way to learn about how a particular service or product offering actually works in the real world. A bit of deference to tech evolution can go a long way to a better outcome for the country and its citizens.
Q. Favorite book/podcast/long-form article you recommend? "The Model Thinker," by Scott Page. The book describes the many different types of data models that can be applied to thorny societal challenges. If only every serious policymaker would consider adding such multi-model thinking to their conceptual toolkits.
Q. Why are you part of TheBridge community? Why do you think it's important this community exists for tech, policy and political professionals? I appreciate that TheBridge serves as a vital informational link between DC and Silicon Valley. We need many more such conceptual bridges right now.
Q. Startup to watch? In the tech startup world, Protocol Labs and Holochain both are doing some terrific stuff in the blockchain/distributed ledger space. Keep a close eye on both of them.
Q. Looking back, what advice would you give yourself in the beginning of your career? In my first day as a new law firm associate, a senior partner took me to lunch. His straightforward advice to me: "Always cultivate the illusion of indispensability." I haven't necessarily taken his words to heart in my career, but they surely helped me better understand how DC really works.
Q. Last time you were completely unplugged? In early May I spent six days by myself at a meditation retreat center outside LA. No cellphone, no laptop, no meat, no alcohol. I found that I missed most TheBridge emails. And a nice Sonoma zinfandel.
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