Some quotes from Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations.
On the complementarity between travel and communication tools (p. 194-5):
The assumption that communications tools are (or will someday be) a good substitute for travel assumes that people mainly gather together for utilitarian reasons of sharing information. Companies have been selling us this idea since the invention of the telegraph, and AT&T's famous Picturephone, first launched at the I964 World's Fair, was pitched as a way to reduce the need for travel. This reduction did not happen, not in 1964 or ever. If communication were a substitute for travel, then the effects would have shown up by now, but they haven't. In 1978 President Carter deregulated the airlines, causing travel prices to fall, but telecommunications stocks didn't collapse; they rose. Similarly, i n 1984 Judge Harold Greene broke up AT&T, leading to a rapid decrease in long distance phone call costs; airline customers increased that year. Communication and travel are complements, not substitutes. Chris Meyer, a globe-trotting consultant for the Monitor Group, observes that "better communications make it easier for me to keep in touch with the office, so I spend more time on the road, talking to clients."
We gather together because we like to, and because it is useful. Assuming that videophones or e-mail or virtual reality will reduce the overall amount of travel is like assuming that liquor stores will kill bars, since liquor stores sell drinks much more cheaply than bars do. In fact, the reason people go to bars is not simply to get a drink, but to do so in a convivial environment. Similarly, cities don't exist just because people have had to be nearby to communicate; cities exist because people like to be near other people, and it is this fact, rather than the mere trading of information, that creates social capital.
Social capital: bonding and bridging (p. 222; 224):
Bonding capital is an increase in the depth of connections and trust within a relatively homogenous group; bridging capital is an increase in connections among relatively heterogeneous groups. Think of the difference by considering the number of people to whom you'd lend money without asking when they'd pay you back. An increase in bridging capital would increase the number of people you'd lend to; an increase in bonding capital would increase the amount of money you'd lend to people already on the list.
Bonding capital tends to be more exclusive and bridging capital more inclusive. In Small World networks bonding tends to happen within the clusters, while bridging happens between clusters.
Where good ideas come from (p. 229-230):
In one of the more evocatively titled papers in the history of social science, "The Social Origins of Good I deas," Ronald Burt of the University of Chicago detailed his research into the relationship among social capital, social structure, and good ideas. ...
The essence of Burt's thesis comes down to a linked pair of observations. First, most good ideas came from people who were bridging "structural holes," which is to say people whose immediate social network included employees outside their department. Second, bridging these structural holes was valuable even when other variables, such as rank and age (both of which correlate for higher degrees of social connection), were controlled for. Note that this experiment was a test for bridging capital, not mere sociability-the highest percentage of good ideas came from people whose contacts were outside their own department. On the other hand, managers who were highly connected, but only to others in their department, had ideas that were not ranked as highly. Bridging predicted good ideas; lack of bridging predicted bad ones.
In Burt's analysis, a dense social network of people in the same department (and who were therefore likely to be person ally connected to one another) seemed to create an echo-chamber effect.
The effect of failure and the open-source model (p. 245-7):
The overall effect of failure is its likelihood times its cost. Most organizations attempt to reduce the effect of failure by reducing its likelihood. Imagine that you are spearheading an effort for a firm that wants to become more innovative. You are given a list of promising but speculative ideas, and you have to choose some subset of them for investment. You thus have to guess the likelihood of success or failure for each project. The obvious problem is that no one knows for certain what will succeed and what will fail. A less obvious but potentially more significant problem is that the possible value of various projects is unconnected to anything their designers say about them. ... In these circumstances, you will inevitably green-light failures and pass on potential successes. Worse still, more people will remember you saying yes to a failure than saying no to a radical but promising idea. Given this asymmetry, you will be pushed to make safe choices, thus systematically undermining the rationale for trying to be more innovative in the first place. ...
Open source doesnt reduce the likelihood of failure, it reduces the cost of failure; it essentially gets failure for free. This reversal, where the cost of deciding what to try is higher than the cost of actually trying them, is true of open systems generally. As with the mass amateurization of media, open source relies on the "publish-then-filter" pattern. In traditional organizations, trying anything is expensive, even if just in staff time to discuss the idea, so someone must make some attempt to filter the successes from the failures in advance. In open systems, the cost of trying something is so low that handicapping the likelihood of success is often an unnecessary distraction. Even in a firm committed to experimentation, considerable work goes into reducing the likelihood of failure. ...
Cheap failure, valuable as it is on its own, is also a key part of a more complex advantage: the exploration of multiple possibilities. ... When a company or indeed any organization finds a strategy that works, the drive to adopt it and stick with it is strong. Even if there is a better strategy out there, finding it can be prohibitively expensive. For work that relies on newly collapsed transaction costs, however, providing basic resources to the groups exploring the fitness landscape costs little, and the failure of even a sizable number of groups also carries little penalty.
Bonus, in praise of scribes (p. 68-9):
In 1492, almost half a century after movable type appeared, Johannes Trithemius, the Abbot of Sponheim, was moved to launch an impassioned defense of the scribal tradition, De Laude Scriptorum (literally "in praise of scribes"). In this work he laid out the values and virtues of the scribal tradition: "The devout monk enjoys four particular benefits from writing: the time that is precious is profitably spent; his understanding is enlightened as he writes; his heart within is kindled to devotion; and after this life he is rewarded with a unique prize." Note how completely the benefits of the scribal tradition are presented as ones enjoyed by scribes rather than by society.
The Abbot's position would have been mere reactionary cant ("We must preserve the old order at any cost") but for one detail. If, in the year 1492, you'd written a treatise you wanted widely disseminated, what would you do? You'd have it printed, of course, which was exactly what the Abbot did. De Laude Scriptorum was not itself copied by scribes; it was set in movable type, in order to get a lot of copies out cheaply and quicklysomething for which scribes were utterly inadequate. The content of the Abbot's book praised the scribes, while its printed form damned them; the medium undermined the message.
There is an instructive hypocrisy here. A professional often becomes a gatekeeper, by providing a necessary or desirable social function but also by controlling that function. Sometimes this gatekeeping is explicitly enforced (only judges can sentence someone to jail, only doctors can perform surgery) but sometimes it is embedded in technology, as with scribes, who had mastered the technology of writing. Considerable effort must be expended toward maintaining the discipline and structure of the profession. Scribes existed to increase the spread of the written word, but when a better, nonscribal way of accomplishing the same task came along, the Abbot of Sponheim stepped in to argue that preserving the scribes' way of life was more important than fulfilling their mission by nonscribal means.
Professional self-conception and self-defense, so valuable in ordinary times, become a disadvantage in revolutionary ones, because professionals are always concerned with threats to the profession. In most cases, those threats are also threats to society; we do not want to see a relaxing of standards for becoming a surgeon or a pilot. But in some cases the change that threatens the profession benefits society, as did the spread of the printing press; even in these situations the professionals can be relied on to care more about self-defense than about progress. What was once a service has become a bottleneck. Most organizations believe they have much more freedom of action and much more ability to shape their
future than they actually do, and evidence that the ecosystem is changing in ways they can't control usually creates considerable anxiety, even if the change is good for society as a whole.