It's Alive has an unusual perspective. The authors argue that the valuable innovations of the next ten years are being developed in the research laboratories and advanced developments of organizations and companies today. The template is looking backward at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center in 1971 as a way to have gotten a preview of today's computer-connected society.
The book will primarily appeal to those with an interest in applying complexity science and biological analogies through information technology to large organizations. Most of the applications here require tens of millions of dollars to do. So for those in small organizations, the examples will seem out-of-reach.
The main advantage of this book over similar books is that it has more and more contemporary examples and a further development of its concepts than the predecessors that I have read.
From looking at technological developments that are available now and those that are in process, Christopher Meyer and Stan Davis see the maturing of the information technology revolution occurring at the same time as the commercialization of various "molecular" technologies (such as nanotechnology, biotechnology and materials science). Because the two fields operate conceptually in similar ways, the authors point to a convergence that has begun between the two fields that will probably grow in the future. They also draw key lessons from the way that evolutionary biology operates to prescribe for business organizations in the future.
To me, the most interesting parts of the book involved advanced experiments and applications of technology to solve problems. Most of these I had not read about before. For the most part, these are written in ways that a lay person can easily follow.
The organizational examples were helpful to applying the concepts of an adaptive enterprise. Apply six memes (gene-like qualities of ideas) for managing that are described in the book:
Self-organize; recombine; sense and respond; learn and adapt; seed, select, and amplify; destabilize.
Of the organizational examples, I found the Capital One and Maxygen examples the easiest to understand. The BP and U.S. Marine Corps examples seemed a little sketchy.
My favorite example in the entire book was of artist Eduardo Kac turning Genesis 1:28 into Morse code and translating the results into a DNA sequence. He then had the sequence inserted into live bacteria, and displayed the bacteria publicly where viewers could zap the bacteria with UV to create potential mutations. Now, that's technological convergence!
Don't let the book's conceptual structure scare you off. Underneath the new definitions and concepts, there's a lot of common sense that most will agree with: Get experience fast; learn from your experience; keep it simple; be agile; get to the most valuable places first with the most; and communicate in all directions.
After you've finished reading the book, I suggest you think about how the book's principles could be accomplished on a shoe-string by an organization that you know well. In that way, you will play a valuable role in being a commercializer of advanced laboratory results.
on 1 March 2004
Running a business these days feels like going on a blind date with the future. Most efforts to understand what lies ahead take on a rather breathless quality, lapsing into technobabble as they struggle to avoid the future’s central truth: unknowability is its essence. Marshall McLuhan once observed that anticipating the future is like steering an automobile by looking into your rearview mirror. Yes, seeing where you’ve been does give you some idea of where you’re going…but not much. That said, We strongly recommends this look into the crystal ball of technology. It’s a clear improvement over most works of the future-shock genre. Soundly rooted in practical business applications, and presenting surprising examples and possibilities without resorting to mind-numbing jargon, this book will prove very useful to anyone savvy enough to realize that just improving your business is no longer enough.