The 10 Immutable Laws of Nanoeconomics

I am about to go all Hammurabi on you and deliver unto you a 10-law summary model of the economy that is taking shape around you at a frenetic pace today: the nanoneconomy. I call it that because its fundamental behavior is determined by the behavior of the human individual rather than the firm (the practical unit of analysis in microeconomics). Many of the dominant themes of this blog — virtual geography (aka globalization) the future of economics, the changing nature of work, and the role of the individual in the economy, all came together for me last week as I pondered the lessons of the political-economy (I love that archaic term) train wreck that is the US Congress’ bailout plan for Wall Street (and Main Street, we are being told). Let me transcribe my tablets for you. For fun, I am calling these laws immutable, but I hope some of you treat this as a mutable blog-meme discussion of the economy, and propose your own amendments.

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A Generational War (Guest Post on Enterprise 2.0 Blog)

I just posted a piece titled Social Media vs. Knowledge Management: A Generational War as my first guest post on the Enterprise 2.0 blog. Go check it out. Post your comments here if you like, since the E2.0 folks don’t have open comments. Here’s an excerpt:

You’d think Knowledge Management (KM), that venerable IT-based social engineering discipline which came up with evocative phrases like “community of practice,” “expertise locater,” and “knowledge capture,” would be in the vanguard of the 2.0 revolution. You’d be wrong. Inside organizations and at industry fora today, every other conversation around social media (SM) and Enterprise 2.0 seems to turn into a thinly-veiled skirmish within an industry-wide KM-SM shadow war. I suppose I must be a little dense, because it took not one, not two, but three separate incidents before I realized there was a war on. Here’s what’s going on: KM and SM look very similar on the surface, but are actually radically different at multiple levels, both cultural and technical, and are locked in an undeclared cultural war for the soul of Enterprise 2.0. And the most hilarious part is that most of the combatants don’t even realize they are in a war. They think they are loosely-aligned and working towards the same ends, with some minor differences of emphasis. So let me tell you about this war and how it is shaping up. Hint: I have credible neutral “war correspondent” status because I was born in 1974.

Check out the rest of the piece. I admit I am being deliberately provocative in this piece to a certain extent. Given how long my pieces tend to be, I need some spice to engage a new set of readers!

How to Measure Information Work

Continuing my exploration of information overload, in this piece, I’ll further develop the argument that it is not the real problem, but a mis-framing of a different problem (call it X) that has nothing to do with “overload” of any sort. Most people who start their thinking with the “information overload” frame look outward at the information coming at them. One aspect of the real problem is terrible feedback control systems for looking inward at your work. On the feedback side of things, we measure capacity for work with the wrong metric (headcount, or in shorthand managerese, “HC”). I’ll explain why HC is terrible at the end of this piece (and I’ve also written a separate article on HC).

So, can you measure information work? Yes. Here is a graph, based on real data, showing the real cumulative quantity of information work in my life during two years and some months of my life, between January 2004 and about March 2006.

Quantity of work over one year

Figure 1: Quantity of work over one year

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Organizing to Disrupt

Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma has helped frame an entire decade of thinking on innovation. His taxonomy of radical/incremental//sustaining/disruptive, despite being very widely misunderstood, has been the filter through which all of the popular innovation literature has been viewed in recent years. Now, more than a decade later, finally companies are figuring out how to systematically organize to disrupt. Three recent books (one blessed by Clay himself) address bits and pieces of this theme, so let’s try to synthesize an overall view of what it takes, and along the way, talk about these three new books (and a bunch of older ones that have play key roles in this story).

First, recall what disruption actually means. I made up a mnemonic graphic, based on the against-the-grain metaphor, to help me remember.

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The Bloody-Minded Pleasures of Engineering

Welcome back. Labor Day tends to punctuate my year like the eye of a storm (I’ve been watching too much Hurricane-Gustav-TV). For those, like me, who do not vacation in August, it tends to be the hectic anchor month for the year’s work. On the other side of Labor Day, September brings with it the first advance charge of the year to come. The tense clarity of Labor Day is charged with the urgency of the present. There is none of the optimistic blue-sky vitality of spring-time visioning. But neither is there the wintry somnolence and ritual banality of New-Year-Resolution visioning. So I tend to pay attention to my Labor Day thoughts. This year I asked myself: why am I an engineer? The answer I came up with surprised me: out of sheer bloody-mindedness. In this year of viral widgetry, when everyone, degreed or not, became an engineer with a click on an install-this dialog on Facebook, this answer is important, because the most bloody-minded will win. Here is why.

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The Future of the Internet according to Jonathan Zittrain

“Be wary of SaaS and Internet-connected appliances, and it’s a good thing if the legal innovation never catches up with technological innovation.” That would serve as a rough summary of the thesis Jonathan Zittrain, cyberlaw Professor at Oxford, seeks to defend. In The Future of the Internet–And How to Stop It he develops an elaborate and densely-argued socio-legal doctrine designed to do one thing: protect the generativity of the Internet without letting it becoming prey to its own power or the anxieties of regulators. This is no quick and dirty treatment of GPL vs. Proprietary. It isn’t your grandmother’s elementary lecture on free as in speech vs. free as in beer. This is a demanding book written by a lawyer, unapologetically full of long, complex sentences that throws the full complexity of cyberlaw problems at you. I was drinking a pretty stiff vodka as I was going through the toughest part, Part III. That is not a good idea, since you need to be pretty alert when reading this part. Still, I think I was sober enough to make this a roughly accurate review/summary.

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Dipity, Or, How to View Time, 2.0

For history buffs like me, a rich understanding of the temporal structure of the world is very important, almost more so than its spatial structure. Timelines to me are in some ways vastly more interesting than atlases and maps. More generally, I (like I suspect, many others), have been watching jealously while creative programmers have been making up great “2.0” style visualizations, and wishing I could use their tools. Today, a startup named Dipity made my day by creating a fantastic time-line visualization tool, which I used to create this visualization of the history of my employer, Xerox. I absolutely love it when a company does just one thing, but does it really well. has a great interview with the co-founder, Derek Dukes. I hope this is the start of a whole new ecosystem of startups that creates a riot of visualization tools for everybody to use. Next request: somebody create a tool for user-generated cartograms please.

[Visualization here; temporarily un-embedded]

Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff

Probably the best thing about Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies is its cover, by Stephani Finks (I hope I linked to the right profile on Facebook). The contents aren’t too shabby either — the book officially bumps Naked Conversations from the top position in the Marketing 2.0 category in my mildly-famous World 2.0 canon post. As you know if you are a regular, I am a sucker for a good metaphor, and when it is accompanied by visual imagery that gets it just right, and clearly conveys the high concept at hand, it’s a you had me at hello situation. Let’s deconstruct the ‘hello’ for a minute, before diving into the review.

Why does this cover work so beautifully for a book about tapping into social media?

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Outsider Innovation 101

This article is an introduction to an idea — outsider innovation — whose time has come. I’ll present the idea, and along the way include short reviews of three fun books about innovation (Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko, Make us More Innovative by Jeffery Phillips, and Awake at the Wheel by Mitch Ditkoff) that belong at what I would call the 101 level. These are books that treat the subject at extremely basic levels, compared to the advanced end of the literature that full-time researchers like me try to keep up with (and which I review more often here). I almost decided not to review them, until I suddenly realized, while taking a walk, why such books are extremely important today in enabling an economy based on true ‘innovation everywhere’ principles. Or as I prefer to call it at its current stage of evolution, ‘outsider innovation,’ by analogy to outsider art. If you are an ‘insider’ this article should help you prepare for the coming ‘outsider’ fueled models. If you are an outsider eagerly awaiting the democratization of innovation, and itching to one-up us smug PhDs, this should help you get started.

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The Evolution of Work-Life

Most people think of only one notion relating work and life: the work-life balance notion. You and I of course, are smarter, and we know that the relationship has been evolving over time. Here’s a picture of this evolution. I’ll leave it for you to figure out how to correlate this to generational attitudes and important technological enabling events.


(Feel free to use the graphic for your own purposes. Linkbacks appreciated).