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A Sustainable Edge
Sunday, May 01, 2005

The site for John Hagel and John Seely Brown's new book, The Only Sustainable Edge: Why Business Strategy Depends on Productive Friction and Dynamic Specialization, is both provocative and inspiring.

The book is to be released tomorrow, but my copy arrived last week. Go figger. I'm only a few pages into the book, so I'll borrow a few words from the book's site:

Our Point of View
Our point of view is simply stated:
the edge is becoming the core...

What do we mean by this? The edge is where the action is - in terms of growth, innovation and value creation. Companies, workgroups and individuals that master the edge will build a more sustainable core. While our primary focus will be on business activity, our perspectives will also be relevant to leaders of other kinds of institutions as well - educational, governmental and social.

The edge is giving rise to a new common sense model. We all perceive and act based on "common sense" assumptions about the world around us and the requirements to achieve our goals. Every major technology shift has produced a fundamentally new common sense model. Our goal is to understand and describe key elements of the new common sense model emerging from technology innovations - especially the invention of the microprocessor and the introduction of packet-switched networks - that were introduced in the early to mid-1970s.

Four Domains of Human Action
What do we mean by edge? We will be focusing on the edges of four different domains of human action - social, enterprise, market and learning.

· The social domain involves the complex relationships between how we define our individual identities and the forms of social participation that we pursue to shape these identities.
· The enterprise domain looks at how we organize to create economic value and how we define the boundaries of these economic entities.
· The market domain explores how we compete and collaborate on a global scale to create, deliver and capture economic value.
· The learning domain seeks to describe how we learn, with particular emphasis on the interaction between individual learning and group learning.

Complex dynamic loops shape the evolution of each domain and the interdependencies across domains. Many analysts have described elements of each of these domains, but no one has sought to explore systematically how these domains interact with each other. We believe that the biggest opportunities will arise where the edges of these four domains interact and generate tensions that need to be resolved. It is this intersection that defines the first dimension of our research agenda.

To effectively pursue this research agenda, we will need to incorporate two other dimensions of investigation as well.

Four Global Forces
On the second dimension of our research agenda, we need to better understand four long-term global forces and how they interact with the four domains described earlier:

· Public policy - especially the broad movement to remove barriers to entry and barriers to competition
· Technological innovation at three levels:
- the continuing improvement in price/performance in digital hardware building blocks and new techniques for designing, building and delivering software
- the changing architectures for organizing these hardware and software building blocks
- the movement into new arenas of these components and architectures (e.g., the mobile Internet, smart objects, bioinformatics and telematics)
· Demographic - especially the changing age demographics around the globe
· Cultural - especially the emergence of global youth cultures, the growth of the creative class and the growing importance of religion in cultures around the world.

How about these reviews?
" ... check out a smart new book by the strategists John Hagel III and John Seely Brown entitled "The Only Sustainable Edge." They argue that comparative advantage today is moving faster than ever from structural factors, like natural resources, to how quickly a country builds its distinctive talents for innovation and entrepreneurship - the only sustainable edge."
Tom Friedman, "What, Me Worry?" New York Times, April 29, 2005

"In a rapidly evolving global capitalist system, this book is the shortest path to survival and success – it is a bible for the new connected age. It is an absorbing narrative, an acute assessment of the environment, and a must-read for everyone."
Vinod Khosla, General Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

The Hagel/JSB thesis parallels Dan Pink's mantra of "Abundance, Asia, Automation."

Mark Oelhert got me psyched about the movie Sin City so yesterday I played hookey and trundled down to the California 3 in Berkeley to take it in.

Sin City is an over-the-top noir unreality flick. Mostly gritty black and white, the film is true to its Frank Miller cartoon roots. Extremes are the norm. It's black or white, not gray. People are shot but keep on going. Cannibals, ghouls, really bad bad guys, a gladiator, a dead ringer for Satan, and others careen in and out of a quick-cut world of big guns, dismembered bodies, rambunctious car chases, blood in the streets, nasty politicians, and worse. I loved it. Somehow the plot circles back to tie up ends so loose I thought they'd never get back together.

Sin City's genre -- cartoon -- drains the violence from chopping people's limbs off. A two-hour cartoon got me accustomed to suspending belief. Anything could happen. Thinking like this, with no shackles, makes it easier to grok statements like, "The edge is becoming the core."

Hagel's blog is worth reading.


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