Conservation Biology Institute
Bridging conservation science and practice
October 13, 2012

Think Big

What do the giants of computer technology have in common?

Recently, I was invited to present our Data Basin project at an advanced technology conference series hosted by TTI Vanguard.  Besides being one of the best run meetings I have ever attended, I got to hear presentations and interact with some of the giants in computer technology – the first person to ever send an email, the creators of IBM’s Watson, and the innovators behind crowd sourcing technology to name a few.

It was quite an honor to be presenting at a technology conference of this caliber, and my message of bringing this sort of technology to bear on the conservation challenges of our time was well-received.
 
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with computers.  Being in front of a computer for hours on end, which is commonplace today with so many people, means more time away from experiencing the world in a more tactile way.  At times, this is excruciatingly painful for a field biologist like me.  I need to feel the dirt, smell the forest air, and hear the birds sing; therefore, I sometimes resent modern technology because it takes me away from these experiences that I crave.  On the other hand, I have witnessed the power of computers, especially maps, which have led to real protection of wild nature in significant and sometimes dramatic ways.  So my personal battle of balancing birds and bytes will go on.

But let me take you back to the conference.  Being a conservation scientist and feeling a little like a fish out of water, I had to listen carefully to the presentations and various conversations that followed.  There were lots of interesting topics – some so foreign to me, I don’t know how to even describe them.  At the end of each day, my brain was full.  

It wasn’t until the long flight home that an important revelation came to me as the plane bounced and my consciousness came in and out of some level of sleep.  What did all of these amazing people and all of the different discoveries and innovations have in common?  They ALL thought big!  None of them allowed the constraints of budgets and political challenges get in the way – forces that lead the human mind to shrink, doubt, compartmentalize, and become constrained.  They ALL thought big!  Wow, after two full days of high tech talks with models, flow diagrams, and equations, that’s it?  That’s what it all boiled down to for me?  I would be lying if I said no other significant learning took place those few days, but this is the one lesson that has really stuck with me and I wanted to share it with you.  It has rejuvenated me in the conservation work we do at CBI and I hope my “aha” moment might help you with your own aspirations in some way.  We are not all going to be inventors of the next Internet, but I believe we will achieve more in our own conservation mission if we remember to THINK BIG.

About the author:
James Strittholt, Ph.D.
Jim Strittholt is President and Executive Director of the Conservation Biology Institute
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