- creativity and innovation in companies
- learning organisations
- online identity reclamation
- open social networking
PC's and the internet were born as generative systems, without a specific purpose in mind, quite opposite to how an appliance is designed, e.g.a typewriter, or a washing machine, or a plane. These objects were designed with a specific use in mind, with just a few alterations possible. Washing white cotton clothes vs. silk tinted ones, or transporting people vs. spying enemy areas vith drones, but not much more.
PCs are inherently different. They are made to run programs or applications, apparently a very limited scope, if it weren't that programming has virtually infinite applications (hence the name). Document editing, medical images treatment, engine combustion control and so on.
Also the Internet has a similar characteristic. It was not intended specifically to transmit particular types of signals or data like a traditional telephone network or the elctric grid do, and now it transports packets of data representing documents, images, voice and so on.
PCs and the internet are inherently generative systems rather than simple appliances.
Zittrain describes generative systems as being characterised by 5 principal factors:
- Ease of Mastery
I want to draw a parallel between these concepts as applied to PCs and the Internet, and apply them to the corporate area devoted to Human Resources.
? ? ? ? ? Nowadays the word innovation is a mantra in the vast majority of companies, which realise that the market is becoming every day more competitive and requires constant innovation to stay ahead of competition. Terms like disruptive innovation, breakthrough innovation, digital disruption abound, but companies still don't have a solid answer about how to compete on innovation.
A key for innovation in companies is the ability to be(come) a generative system in the sense intended by Zittrain. Of course you want to control the outputs of the system and the system itself so that it remains profitable (which is the raison-d'être of a company). But you want also to be able to produce innovation - that is, innovative ideas and their implementation.
How is a generative company organised? Can it be a set of "dumb" parts that perform very specific tasks like the CPU, RAM memory, I/O cards and hard disks in a computer? In that case who would be the programmer of the company that make it do marvels? The problem here is twofold:
- the programmer is in the system, which resembles more a biological system than a "simple" PC
- the "dumb" parts, which as such should be appliances themselves, in reality are made of humans (hey, biology again here!)
To be innovative a company has to be generative. Since a company is made of people, its generativity comes from the generativity of its employees.
Now take any job list online and look at the description of the positions. Companies consistently look for recruiting appliancized people, at all levels! How can they think to be able to manage innovation with such a workforce?
In fact the career trajectory for generative people - the sort of people who are hackers and makers like the early crew of the PC and Internet era - is always at the leading edge of new things happening, and large establiahed companies do not have the systems in place to attract and retain them. It's two worlds apart from each other.
Companies embracing innovation must find ways to become attractive also for generative people, and to do so they must start speaking the generative language, which is made of uncertainty, trial-and-error, experimentation, rather than control and compliance. Not an easy task, but is must be done if a company wants to be able to survive and strive and finally thrive.