Passport to the 21st Century
John Seely Brown, Steve Denning, 
Katalina Groh, Larry Prusak: 
Some of the world's leading thinkers
explore the role of storytelling in the world

 I Introduction to storytelling I John Seely Brown on science I Steve Denning on change I Katalina Groh on video
Larry Prusak on organization I Discussion I | Contact us | Bibliography on storytelling

Storytelling: Scientist's Perspective: John Seely Brown
The knowledge ecology of Xerox PARC: creative abrasion
   Now I want to talk through how the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) is a microcosm of a place that has fashioned an area for knowledge sharing, and construction of radical ideas. The best way to think about PARC, and I think the best way to think about enterprises as we move forward is as knowledge ecologies. Because in a place like PARC, we have skills, we have disciplines, everything from theoretical physics, mathematics, engineering, but also we have ecology, sociology, psychologists, now even artists.
   This is an ecology of disciplines. Think about the knowledge ecology. As any kind of ecology, it is a system, it has all kinds of dynamic, interactive capacities. It has to be open, it has to be critically nurtured, or husbanded, rather than managed, You don’t manage creativity. You don’t manage invention. You manage innovation, that’s taking invention to market, you very simply husband creativity. The catch to me, and we will come back to the very end, is how do we achieve a balance between structure and spontaneity. If everything happens spontaneously, you get all kinds of self canceling behavior, too many ideas, and so on and so forth. 
   And so the question is how do you put the backbones in there that become enabling to coordinate creative practice that become enabling but not stifling. That sense of how do you acknowledge the structure and the spontaneity. How do you get, for example, in terms of this husbanding notion, how do you create a space for pluralism. The trouble with putting all the disciplines together is that basically if you have three disciplines together, and you try to call a formal meeting, you have philosophers, psychologists and anthropologists all meet, the meeting quickly degenerates into metaphysical spitballs. 

Creative abrasion

    Disciplines are not very good at interacting with each other. Just walk into any type of campus. So the catch to me is: how do you create a space of pluralism that somehow manages to foster and honor a kind of creative abrasion. So you can get ideas that really rub against each other productively as opposed to destructively. You can use this notion as a way to challenge the status quo, be able to think out of the box and get to be able to examine some tacitly held sensibilities, if not tacitly held practices.
   One kind of a metaphor for me is to recognize that in any kind of a knowledge ecology, not only are you going to have different disciplines, but even have different styles. And it’s basically the style of those people – you might call them the CFOs, that actually look at things in terms of this kind of capability only, very focused, very grounded very analytic. Focused on the trenches. And above all predictable. 
  And by the way, if you can’t get predictability in a large-scale corporation, you’ve got nothing. 
   So you have to have that (process) sensibility, but you also have to have mixed with that (process) sensibility the other (ecological) sensibility. It’s not a matter of either/or. How do you maintain a playful, but nevertheless grounded in the both these types of sensibilities that’s going to facilitate the communication that we’ll talk about some more – artistic, transcending boundaries, pushing the boundaries, rather than focused on the trenches, and in fact fundamentally unpredictable. 
   And in fact, the more we looked at this, we wanted to able to find an approach that could honor both camps simultaneously, and in fact we ended up stopping calling our researchers “researchers” any more,  but “edge designers”,  those on the edge, that are capable of living on this (process) edge, also living on the (ecological) edge of boundaries, just a metaphor of the edge designer, and an evocative kind of construct.

Books and videos on storytelling 
*** In Good Company : How Social Capital Makes Organizations Work
by Don Cohen, Laurence Prusak (February 2001) Harvard Business School Press
*** The Social Life of Information, by John Seely Brown, Paul Duguid
(February 2000) Harvard Business School Press
*** The Springboard : How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations
by Stephen Denning (October 2000) Butterworth-Heinemann 
*** The Art of Possibility, a video with Ben and Ros Zander : Groh Publications (February 2001)
Copyright © 2001 John Seely Brown 
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