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As a follow-up to his controversial journal article of the same title, Robert Putnam makes an overwhelming case that there has been a diminishment of social capital -- of community connected-ness -- in this country over the last few decades.  He explains how it has happened and why it matters.  Ultimately, he's optimistic that we can turn the tide.

The latest book by Jane Jacobs is terrific, and it's written in an enviably concise and accessible manner .  Like Bill Frederick, Jacobs understands that economies are a part of the natural world -- and she proposes that they are governed by inherently natural forces.  Like John Seely Brown, Jacobs understands that economic development can't occur without co-development.  In other words, development can't occur in isolation.  Hence, the historical economic advantages of cities.

John Seely Brown, director of Xerox PARC, is no Luddite.  Even so, he does us all a favor by debunking infocentric hype.  Context -- particularly social context -- matters.  So does distance.  So does community.  Technology changes all of them, in some ways profoundly, but they remain critical parts of our lives.

This concise and readable book is one of the most pragmatic treatments of complexity thinking I've found.  Importantly, it avoids some of the over-simplifications that mar many other books on the topic.  However, to get the most out of it, it helps to be well versed in complexity.

Cyberselfish is a rant, albeit a pretty entertaining one.  Author Paulina Borsook (a former contributor to Wired magazine) takes issue with the biological metaphor for business, seeing it as a veneer for neo-Social Darwinism.  I think she overstates the case, but her characterizations of the politics of the high tech culture contain the sting of truth. 

Required Reading

Baldwin and Clark explain the enormous creation of value and the transformation of the computer industry spawned by the introduction of the IBM System/360 -- the first modular computer -- using the lenses of real options and complexity thinking.

Highly recommended!  Amar Bhide offers a very attractive framework for understanding the differences in initial conditions that give rise to different models of new business formation.

Read this book! Clayton Christensen explains how the very processes that make companies successful can also make them vulnerable to disruptive technologies.

MacArthur Fellow and theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman's ideas on self-organization. Lots of interesting implications for the complex adaptive systems ("CAS") that we call innovation and business. A complexity science classic.

This isn't an easy read, but it is an important book. Bill Frederick provides us with a framework for understanding the conflict among three value sets in business: economizing, power aggrandizement, and ecologizing. As critical as Robert Jackal (see Moral Mazes below) of power aggrandizement in corporate America, Frederick shines a light toward a possible reconciliation of businesses need to economize with our collective need to ecologize.

If you are interested in CAS, you'd best acquaint yourself with the writings of John Holland, the "father of genetic algorithms." Professor Holland writes concisely, yet covers a great deal at depth. (I must admit that I struggle with some of the material.) Hidden Order is the best, but you should also consider Emergence: From Chaos to Order.


Highly Recommended

Amram, Martha and Nalin Kulatilaka. (1999). Real Options: Managing Strategic Investment in an Uncertain World. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. Amram and Kulatilaka have given us a pragmatic guide to the application of real options thinking. For those of you who are up to a heavier mathematical load, try Real Options: Managerial Flexibility and Strategy in Resource Allocation by Lenos Trigeorgis.

Dawkins, Richard. (1995). River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life. New York: BasicBooks. Dawkins writes beautifully and compellingly. Here, he provides concise evidence of the power of evolution. Read all of his books, but read this one first.

Devlin, Keith. (1999). InfoSense: Turning Information into Knowledge. New York: W.H. Freeman. Devlin explains how information differs from knowledge, how communication is hindered and enhanced, and how information can be better managed, using the scientific tools provided by situation theory. Furthermore, he does so in a clear, non-technical, and highly readable fashion. While his conclusion that "context matters" may at first glance seem almost trite, Devlin drives the point home in a fresh, compelling manner. This is an interesting, yet practical, book -- particularly for us non-specialists.

Hagel, John III and Marc Singer. (1999). Net Worth: Shaping Markets When Customers Make the Rules. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. Predictions regarding the emerging role of the infomediary. A number of recent startups have apparently only read selected parts Hagel and Singer's message.

Jackall, Robert. (1988). Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Social anthropologist Robert Jackall wrote this analysis of the "patrimonial bureaucracy" that characterizes the life of corporate managers. While reading it, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. It's the academic version of Dilbert. Thank you David Isenberg for bringing the book to my attention in your Smart Letter #22.

Norman, Donald A. (1998). The Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Can Fail, the Personal Computer is So Complex, and Information Appliances are the Solution. Cambridge: The MIT Press. Norman's design manifesto focuses on the emergence of the networked information appliance.

Petzinger, Thomas Jr. (1999). The New Pioneers: The Men and Women Who Are Transforming the Workplace and Marketplace. New York: Simon & Schuster. With chapters titles such as The Age of Adaptation, From Planning to Playing, and Nobody's as Smart as Everybody, Tom Petzinger's latest book is irresistible. Besides, the guy is a very good writer. Also well worth while is a gander at Tom's complexity reading list.

Shapiro, Carl and Hal R. Varian. (1999). Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. Don't throw away your economics textbooks -- they are still relevant. Nevertheless, switching costs, positive feedback, and lock-in are particularly important characteristics of a networked economy.

Utterback, James M. (1996). Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. Understanding and anticipating the relationship between product innovation and process innovation.

Wilson, Edward O. (1998). Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. New York: Knopf. Renowned biologist Edward O. Wilson makes the case that our world is organized in terms of a small number of natural laws.


Origin's approach to business emphasizes exploration and adaptation. Particularly in recent years, there has been a great deal written -- much of it very good -- about the science of adaptation and emergence and its application to business innovation. We compiled a list of

You might also want to check out our list of additional reading.


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