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Hyperlinked tinkering

(I’ve posted this to Adaptive Path’s blog, but since it touches on common themes, I thought I’d reprint it here. I might modify it a little bit, too. )

I’m in Chicago attending the Institute of Design’s Strategy Conference. I’ll be blogging thoughts inspired by speakers.

The event started with a presentation by John Seely Brown, former director of Xerox PARC. He emphasized that the primary challenge organizations are facing as they move forward is overcoming outdated structures. This is familiar territory to anyone who has read David Weinberger for the last ten years… Brown essentially recapitulated Weinberger’s calls for a the “hyperlinked organization.”

The basic idea is that our top-down, hierarchical organizations, pioneered by folks like Henry Ford, are optimized for efficiency of delivery. That’s fine in a manufacturing economy, but we’re seeing it breakdown in a services-lead economy.

He stressed that as a society we’re shifting from being interested in knowledge to being interested in the act of knowing, and as part of that, moving from Homo sapiens to Homo faber — we think through making. He identified the trend of tinkering as part of this, that we learn through fiddling with things. There was a death of tinkering from 1980-1995, when locked-down, microchip technologies made it difficult to take things apart and mess with them, but that we’ve seen a rebirth of tinkering, largely driven by communities finding one another online. (He didn’t mention Make magazine, or the Maker Faire, but clearly these are also part of this movement.)

One thing I wish Brown had done is to reflect on how tinkering is part of the social construction of technology, in that how we tinker, and what we make, comments on who we are as a people.