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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Roundup: Jan 17 – March 20

Since mid-January, we’ve had 16 new new articles. There were 4 articles relating to books, 4 relating to technology,  4 relating to business and economics, and 4 on thinking and philosophy. Here is a grouped list of each of the 16 new posts. But first, some interesting quick highlights.
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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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On Japan as a Robot-Loving Nation

I suppose I am not your typical blogger in one way: I don’t blog about news items that grab my attention, because I am rarely happy with my first-order immediate reaction to the news. It often takes me years before I consciously “get” why a piece of news grabbed my attention. For instance, I have had this snippet saved in my email for a couple of years now:

…Japan’s robot love goes farther than respect for function, and deeper than mere pragmatism can explain. Shinto, Japan’s homegrown religion, is an animist faith. The Japanese embrace of robots is a logical extension of ancient beliefs that all things, living and nonliving, organic and inorganic, can possess a transcendent spirit. In Japanese tradition, humanity has never been reserved for humans. Is it any wonder that Japan is welcoming the cyborg future with open arms?

From: “ASIAN POP: Robot Nation” by Jeff Yang, SF Gate Thursday, August 25, 2005

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Trollope, Fitzgerald and Holmes for the Generalist’s Soul

I think I must be a generalist by default, because I am not stand-out good at anything in particular. Generalists cannot live forever on left-handed ‘renaissance man’ compliments, so we must become good at collecting pieces of validation about our attitude towards life (and our resistance towards specialization). Three quotes have anchored my views on being a generalist. I thought I’d share them.

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The UnAha! Experience

Imagine that there is a mystery closed curve about the origin. Allow two parallel lines to approach the origin from diametrically opposed directions, and have them stop where they first become tangent to the mystery curve. Suppose you do this from all pairs of directions from (0,π) to (π,0), and find that the lines stop the same distance apart everywhere. What is the mystery curve? (Don’t worry, this isn’t a post about mathematics!) [Read more…]

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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The Blue Tunnel

I have had this little picture-story in my mind for several months now. It is the sort of thing that gets less clear the more you say about it, so here it is, with no further explanation.

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