I listened to a fantastic podcast by John Seely Brown from 22 June 2005 at Supernova 2005 this evening. This is linked by ITConversations, a superb source for innovative ideas and great podcasts. JSB’s presentation, which runs about 30 minutes long, is one of the best I have ever heard on offshoring, emerging economic processes, learning and feedback. Even though this presentation was short, there is a TON here to think about, digest and process. This blog entry is a combination of notes I took from the podcast, responses I have to it, and implications I think this should have for us in the educational sphere. I welcome your thoughts and feedback here as comments!

Before getting into my notes and ideas, let me thank John P Mayer for posting about this podcast and drawing my attention to it. John recommends Benkler’s new book, “The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom” in the same blog post that he linked to JSB’s podcast.

The Wealth of Networks

Given the fact that Larry Lessig, one of the living thinkers on the planet I respect most also strongly recommends reading this book, it is something I’ve moved high on my future reading list. Larry wrote:

This is — by far — the most important and powerful book written in the fields that matter most to me in the last ten years. If there is one book you read this year, it should be this.

In addition to being available from traditional outlets like Amazon, it is also available as a free PDF download. Can’t beat that. Supports my perception that if you want to be relevant in today’s digitally networked society, you want to do everything possible to promote as broad a dissemination of your ideas as possible. Access to content is everything, profit margins from book sales are close to nothing.

Enough of that, now on to my notes and responses from JSB’s June 2005 preso!

First, a series of vocabulary words and terms. These were all used by JSB in his presentation and subsequent Q&A:

  • distributed networks of suppliers
  • business ecosystems
  • decentralization
  • innovation ecologies
  • offshoring
  • disruptive process innovation
  • learn more from dialog than diodes
  • loose coupling
  • building trust relationships
  • SOA architectures

In speaking about Toyota and the way their executives deal with suppliers, he notes:

They [Toyota] expect suppliers to push back.

A system is in place which permits “instantaneous troubleshooting” on the factory floor in a swarm pattern. This is very different from the operating procedures of the big 3 auto manufacturers in Detroit, who have a completely top-down approach. [THIS REMINDS ME OF OUR SCHOOL SYSTEMS]

A swarm innovation design is the key to their success in diverse markets
– an example is what has happened with Honda and Toyota in motorcycle sales in Vietnam
[MY THOUGHT: TOYOTA IS THE NIMBLE, FLEXIBLE ONE THAT HAS A CORPORATE CULTURE AND ETHOS VALUING FEEDBACK FROM THE BOTTOM, WHICH NOT ONLY HAS THE POTENTIAL TO TRANSFORM BUT ACTUALLY DOES TRANSFORM OPERATING PROCEDURES ON A REGULAR BASIS.]

Offshoring is much more than price arbitration [THIS IS HOW OFFSHORING IS COMMONLY VIEWED IN THE WEST TODAY, AT LEAST IN THE US I THINK AT EDTECH CONFERENCES]
– offshoring is really about utilizing specific and unique skill sets

The purpose of middle management in this Toyota model is to accelerate learning on the floor
– we see this in call centers in Bangalore that in 18 months have gone from the most basic level of call center functionality to robust and complex call center roles. Instead of 50 to 1 ratios of workers to management like in US call centers, in these you see 8 to 1 or 4 to 1. The difference is the role of the manager, which is all about accelerating learning for the workers, for himself/herself, and for upper management. In some companies, managers are spending 45% of their time per week sharing what they are learning “on the floor” with upper management. [MY THOUGHT: AGAIN COMPARE THIS TO SCHOOLS, WHERE MOST ADMINISTRATORS SPEND VERY LITTLE TIME PER WEEK OR EVEN PER YEAR TALKING AND LISTENING TO TEACHERS. THIS IS PART OF THE PROBLEM IN OUR SCHOOLS.]

New types of visualization software and powerful computer hardware are converging with these business models and revolutionizing the types of feedback systems that can be created and powerfully leveraged. [I AM REMINDED OF THE DATA VISUALIZATION SOFTWARE FATHOM, WHICH I LEARNED ABOUT IN MARCH BUT HAVEN’T PLAYED WITH YET. I LEARNED TONIGHT THEY ALSO HAVE A FREE WEB-SURVEY FEATURE (free for those with the commercial software.) THIS SOFTWARE LOOKS GREAT!]

Social software tools like IM, wikis, etc are being leveraged in powerfully creative ways to create more synergy for innovation
– a major business goal should be wrapping social software tools around SOA architectures

JSB observes:

The only thing to expect is the unexpected.

We spend the majority of our time in businesses handling “exception conditions”
– implication is that we can’t contrive rules for everything

[MY THOUGHT: THIS IS ALL TALKING ABOUT HOW WE NEED TO EMBRACE DYNAMICAL MODELS AND METHODS FOR BUSINESS AND EDUCATION, JUST LIKE VIRGINIA POSTREL CHAMPIONED BACK IN 1998. WE NEED TO FREEZE THE CONTEXT SO WE CAN LOOK AT THE ACTION POINT AND TROUBLESHOOT THE SITUATION IN EDUCATIONAL SETTINGS, JUST LIKE JSB IS TALKING ABOUT IN BUSINESS SETTINGS.]

Dynamic specialization is key
– feedback systems within ecosystems are making these innovation advances possible
– this is a corporate culture, that would require a major worldview / paradigm shift / culture change for the Big 3 auto-manufacturers [AND IN PUBLIC EDUCATION TOO. THIS SEEMS TO BE THE REAL KEY: FIGURING OUT HOW WE SHOULD OPTIMALLY “DO LEARNING” IN ORGANIZATIONS]

Businesses also need to figure out how they develop partnerships, especially when trust building is essential within dynamic and fluid markets

The purpose of the firm may no longer be minmizing transaction costs, but instead accelerating the ability for workers and management to learn and innovate through various frictional forces

—- end of my notes —-

As I indicated at the start, there is a lot to process and digest here. I think this is GREAT STUFF to think on, however, and also use as a lens to examine schools and the issues present in school reform.

As I noted above, I think this is a clarion call to dynamical thinking and behavior. The reason some of the audience were saying the “Big 3″ US auto manufacturers may be doomed is that they are cultural TECHNOCRATS– statists, in the parlance of Virginia Postrel. Our schools are technocratic, statist institutions too. They do not naturally embrace dynamical changes or disruptive technologies.

I am starting to think the implications of these ideas for us in the edublogsophere may include:

  • Finding ways to collaborate in the “swarm pattern” described by JSB in his presentation to troubleshoot problems together.
  • Seeking to introduce and powerfully/constructively use disruptive educational technologies in the classroom to move our statist organizations forward and foster cultures of innovation, creativity, collaboration and dynamic learning.

Both of these things are already happening via blogs and podcasts, I think, and they should continue through a dialog that continues to get deeper and wider. (Including more people, talking about more ideas in greater depth.)

If you’ve lasted this long reading this string of notes and thoughts, I’m very curious. What do you think? Business models can’t be applied directly to education in all contexts, but certainly most of us would agree education needs to CHANGE and one of our biggest problems is the intrinsic, systemic resistance within our educational institutions to change. Do you see possible strategies in all of this for change agents in our educational systems?


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  • http://www.ed421.com Stephanie Sandifer

    Wow — just when I thought it would be a nice, quiet Friday… Now my mind is racing… I need time to process all of this, but I’m already making connections and forming some thoughts… will connect-the-dots and post something soon.

    In the meantime, just off the top of my head… two recent BusinessWeek articles: The World’s Most Innovative Companies and The Art of Motivation

    And… just for fun My Virtual Life — another factor that should be on our “radar” screens as we work to transform our education system…

  • http://bkaeg.org/blog AG

    Hmm. It seems that the author took down the .pdf ;(

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