Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Soccer as improvisational workflow 

via Jon Udell

John Seely Brown, former director of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, says he believes that recent changes in software technology could allow big gains in productivity and innovation. The opportunity, he says, is to move beyond the limitations of centralized systems for automating business operations, like enterprise resource systems. "Those systems are prisons," said Mr. Brown, who is scheduled to speak at today's conference.

The software plumbing of computing, Mr. Brown explains, is evolving, and so is Internet-based software for individual workers. Software systems built on Web standards, he said, can be used as pick-and-place building blocks, instead of the more formal hierarchical systems of the past.

Mr. Brown also points to the rapid development of what he calls "social software" like instant messaging, Weblogs, wikis (multi-user Weblogs) and peer-to-peer tools - all of which make it easier for workers to communicate and collaborate online, almost instantaneously.

The combined result, Mr. Brown said, is information technology that can amplify social interaction and enhance workers' understanding of what is happening around them. The benefit, he added, could be to increase their ability to "collectively improvise and innovate."

That is a key to productivity and peak performance, according to Mr. Brown. Business, he said, is a lot like soccer. In soccer, there are some set plays, but the best teams also display a wealth of effective improvisation based on the players' deep knowledge of one another. "It's the same in the best corporations or start-ups," he said. [New York Times: Technology and Worker Efficiency, by Steve Lohr

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