Why we are on the cusp of a new economic era that will make the changes and challenges of the Information Era seem like child's playFrom the bestselling authors of Blur-a defining book of the Information Age-comes a startling glimpse into the near future and the emerging economy that awaits us. It's Alive foretells the jolt the world is about to receive as the science of molecular evolution races out of the laboratories and into the business world.Think back to the early 1970s. Imagine the opportunities for your business, career choice, and investments had you received an advance report on the ways in which computer and information technology would revolutionize the world. It's Alive provides that opportunity today: a realistic and persuasive look into the future-the molecular economy-and how it is starting to overtake and reshape the Information Age. Today's gene mapping and molecular engineering are equivalent to the introduction of transistor radios at the advent of the information economy.
The hackneyed trope of businesses as organisms in an economic ecosystem is updated in this informative but puffed-up volume of management theory. According to Meyer and Davis, authors of the New Economy manifesto Blur: The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy, the next big thing will be a "molecular economy"-biotechnology, nanotechnology and materials science-based on biological processes or things that mimic them. They spend several chapters on a tour of up-and-coming technologies, but their interest in them is mainly as avatars of a new managerial zeitgeist. In a coming age of unprecedented "volatility," businesses must abandon efforts to craft the perfect plan for the future and engineer the environment, and should instead embrace an evolutionary paradigm of "adaptive management" based on biological principles. Successful organizations must "self-organize" instead of relying on command-and-control, "recombine" best practices from diverse sources, "sense and respond" to changing conditions, "seed, select and amplify" a multitude of innovations and constantly "destabilize" themselves. Drawing on case studies of organizations including the Capital One credit card company and the Marine Corps, the authors apply these insights to basic business functions like inventory, pricing, product development and Web services. Their fluent, breathless style, replete with outri theorizing, maintains a relentless tone of future-shock over developments that are mostly high-tech extensions of age-old business practices. While some of their farther-out prognostications-e.g., virtual-reality "experience machines"-may prove that nothing gets dated faster than futurism, there are enough pragmatic applications here for alert executives to chew on. 18 line drawings. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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May 13, 2003
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Excerpt from It's Alive by Ian Mulgrew
Economic Evolution: Learning from Life Cycles
Imagine that it's 1971 in Palo Alto, California.
You've wandered into a building at the Stanford Industrial Park, a nondescript place with cinder-block walls and rented furniture. The 3180 Porter Drive site is as plain and drab as the surface of the moon, and the guys working here seem to be living in their own private universe, speaking their own unique language. Someone's nattering on about the new "Intel 4004." Apparently, this new gadget he's talking about is called a "microprocessor." Someone else seems to think it's really great that this thing contains 2,250 transistors. They're both worked up over the fact that this "microprocessor" has an entire "CPU" on a single "chip."
As an average person living in 1971, you have no idea what they're talking about. In this ugly building on Porter Drive, also known as the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), the computer wonks are also talking about "operating systems" and "laser printing" and "icons." Soon they will be going on about the "mouse," "point and click," and the "graphical user interface"; eventually, "bandwidth" and "network protocols."
In the early seventies, these terms were arcane jargon, but the words and the concepts they represent are as familiar to us now as "assembly line" and "mass production" were then. That's because the computer scientists at places like Xerox PARC and Bell Labs were, in fact, inventing the future--which is now our present--building the new economic engine that would overtake the industrial economy of the preceding 150 years. "Computer speak" is the lingua franca of the world we inhabit at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
Today, in commercial laboratories with names like Maxygen, Diversa, and Nanosys, it's happening again. A new generation of scientists is inventing the next new world with its own novel nomenclature. Their terms of art, phrases such as "combinatorial chemistry," "gene shuffling," "high-throughput screening," and "MEMS" sound just as arcane to the average person now as computer terminology did in 1971.
But pay attention. In the same way that researchers at PARC and Fairchild Semiconductor and Bell Labs created technology that established a new economy based on information, scientists in labs today are inventing a future based on molecular technologies. These include not just biotechnology but nanotechnology and materials science as well. Cargill Dow Polymers is growing polymers for plastics in corn plants. PPG Industries is making nano-scale coatings that enable windows to wash themselves in the rain. Bio-Rad Laboratories is attaching naked strands of DNA to gold nanospheres and injecting them into people with a nano-BB gun.
A new "molecular economy" is on its way, while the information economy hasn't completely matured. As the information economy comes of age, a surprising thing is happening: Information systems are starting to take their cues from biological ones. Information is converging with biology, and business is following suit.