John Seely Brown on Innovation

Innovation Weblog has a report by Robert Tucker on a presenation by John Seely Brown at the Front End of Innovation conference:

Leading off Day two was the bearded, soft-spoken John Seely Brown, former chief scientist of Xerox, and director emeritus of Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, whose only reference to PARC was to remind us that invention is not the same thing as innovation (PARC being famously good at the former, and less effective on the latter) before quickly going on to explore the new tools emerging to help us mine the future and to remain personally relevant in an age of discontinuity. He cited the need to fight an urban war in Iraq as being one example of generals not being prepared but reminded all of us: “The better we get at doing something, the worst we get at seeing new patterns,” he noted.

How do you look around inside your company? How do you get insights from the digital generation? How do you get insights from customers? “We treat our call centers as cost centers when we should be using them not just as tactical listening posts, but as strategic listening posts.”

Using the video games industry as metaphor, Brown pointed out that “it’s not the games, it’s the social ecology around them” that makes them a useful example of how companies must use new insights and tools to alert them to subtle changes. Not just the online playing of them but sharing of information about them between millions of players outside game makers control, which is already larger than the movie industry by a billion dollars, was Brown’s concern. “In Korea, people have practically stopped watching television; there are 26,000 game parlors in Korea alone. Another example: Computer blogs. Brown sees such self-forming communities leading companies to have to change.

“We think of consciously designing things, but … today’s kids are so busy multi-tasking that they smell their way through the web” rather than navigate, and for them the internet is like breathing, they don’t think of it as technology. In today’s networld, you pull stuff off the web and co-create new stuff and put it out there with your name on it and gain identity thereby,” he said. This has an impact on how you sell ideas. “Nobody sells ideas based on the content. We have to be able to engage the gut” to reach people today.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.