Johnny Bunko and the Future of Work

Dan Pink, whose work I’ve written about before, is releasing a new book next week that will likely bring to a conclusion a powerful line of thinking about the nature of work, that’s been gathering momentum for about a decade. In doing so, this new book, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, will likely spark some controversy, elevate the debate to another level, and frame a whole new set of important questions about the future of work. Johnny Bunko is a deceptively simple and doctrinaire business parable that distills the essence of a strengths-based millennial philosophy of work into a comic-book. So let’s take a look.

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Bargaining with your Right Brain

At the straw market in Nassau, in the Bahamas, — famous for stuff like the straw handbags below — I recently encountered a distinctive culture of bargaining that made me stop and ponder the subject (on a beach, aided by rum). The pondering resulted in a neat little flash of insight that allowed me to synthesize everything I know about the subject in a way that surprised me. The short version: game-theoretic and information-theoretic approaches to the subject are something between irrelevant and secondary. What drives bargaining behaviors and outcomes is story-telling skill. Here’s how you can learn the skills that really matter in being a successful bargainer.


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The Varieties of Innovation Experience

If you have accepted ‘innovator’ as some part of your identity, what sort of innovator are you? I offer here a dictionary of personality types I’ve encountered in the 10 years I’ve been in the business, and offer some of my favorite examples from history. But before I let you have fun trying to recognize yourself in my list, a word of explanation is in order. I have always been unhappy with the usual definition of innovation — as invention successfully taken to market. This definition is of the sort David Foster Wallace calls “deeply trivial” (he coins that phrase in Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity and provides an elegant example: “because it is illegal” as an answer to the question, “why is it wrong to kill?”). So here we go: a better definition of innovation, and a taxonomy of innovation styles, with apologies to William James.

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Ambient Presence and Virtual Social Capital

In previous articles in this series on virtual geography, I considered the 50-foot rule and its reconstruction for a digital world. Let’s return to the theme from another angle: ambient presence. Let’s say you and your spouse work in different cities. You both sign up for a VoIP service like Skype, but instead of dutifully talking every evening, you just turn up the speakers on your respective computers, and leave the Skype connection on. You occasionally say something to each other; you can hear each other’s TVs and kitchen noises. That’s ambient presence. Communication technology becoming so cheap that you can afford to leave it on to create a passive background connection. It is a pretty darn cool concept, so let’s take a serious look at it.

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The Big Switch by Nicholas Carr

Nicholas Carr, famous for being among the first to publicly point out, in IT Doesn’t Matter, that investment in information technology had gone from being a differentiator to a cost of doing business, is back in the limelight with an ambitious new book, The Big Switch (website). It starts out with a fairly focused intent — to understand the potential shift to a service-oriented, utility-based model of computing. It accomplishes that intent rather hurriedly, but reasonably well, and then marches on to bigger things, with mixed results.

The overall recommendation: well worth a read, so long as you stay aware of a couple of critical blind spots in the book’s take.

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Entrepreneurship, Intrapreneurship and Cross-preneurship

I’ve heard people describe themselves as serial entrepreneurs. I suppose I could say I am something of a cross-preneur: I like experimenting with *preneurial behaviors in different contexts. Serial *preneurship would bore me. I’ve been meaning to write something about entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship for the last few weeks, since it recently hit me that I have approximately a year of experience with each of these. My thoughts went, perhaps inevitably, from a list of differences, to a list of similarities, to an attempt at synthesis. I can’t claim to have achieved a synthesis — a definition of *preneurship say — but I’ve made some indirect progress by focusing on the concept of ‘cross-preneur’ (I’ll remove the hyphen if the term catches on). Here are some things I’ve learned about being a cross-preneur, defined as somebody capable of being *preneurial in multiple contexts.

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Creative Destruction: Portrait of an Idea

The phrase creative destruction has resonated with me since I first heard it, and since then, it has been an organizing magnet in my mind for a variety of ideas. I was reminded of the concept again this weekend while reading William Duggan’s Strategic Intuition, which mentioned Joseph Schumpeter as a source of inspiration. Visually, I associate the phrase most with Escher’s etching, Liberation, which shows a triangular tessellation transforming into a flock of birds. As the eye travels up the etching, the beauty of the original pattern must be destroyed in order that the new pattern may emerge

Escher Liberation

(All M.C. Escher works (c) 2008 The M.C. Escher Company – the Netherlands. All rights reserved. Used by permission. ):

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How the Internet is Really Evolving

Sometimes really smart people, perhaps because they are harried or busy, help perpetuate badly flawed models of important ideas. Memes that get traction because they are easy to repeat, not because they are right. One that I’ve noticed a lot in recent times is what I call the sequential fallacy in talking about the Internet. This fallacy is at the heart of the story that goes ARPANET…Web 1.0…Web 2.0…Web 3.0/SemWeb. Here is how to get away from the fallacy and think more accurately about how the Internet is really evolving.

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Mousetrap 2.0: A Comicbook

[Newsflash: this comic-book story has now appeared in print: in Massively Multi-Agent Technology in the Springer Lecture Notes in Computer Science series. If your institution has access to this publication, you can view the “official” version of the paper  here (you may need to copy and paste the URL into your browser). Yay! I am now a published comic-book author].

A few months ago, Paul Scerri, an AI researcher at Carnegie-Mellon, got in touch to ask if I wanted to contribute a chapter to a book he was editing — an academic volume on “massive multiagent systems,” or systems comprising very large number of simple autonomous devices that interact with each other and humans. Somehow, that conversation led to me producing a comic-book format, quasi-fictional story. I scripted and rough-sketched the story, and a local Rochester artist, Brian Petty, turned them into finished illustrations. So here, for your merriment and technical-visionary thought-provocation, is my first graphic novelette and the story of how it came to be.

Comic cover

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Clockspeed and Business Genetics Reconsidered

Nearly 10 years ago, in Clockspeed, Charles Fine of MIT revived a metaphor for the economy that goes back to at least Herbert Spencer’s essay, On The Social Organism (1860). A colleague recommended the book because I’ve lately been obsessed with issues of speed in innovation. Read as an anecdote-rich exposition of concurrent engineering, it is pretty good. As a justification of its title, it is badly derailed, since the limited discussion of time scales in the business world goes nowhere, least of all towards justification of the subtitle “winning industry control in the age of temporary advantage.” But the book, despite its value, mainly struck me as a massive missed opportunity to explore the metaphor of business genetics. In this piece, I attempt to remedy this gap with the benefit of 10 years of hindsight.

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