Coolhunt Log #8
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Scott Cooper, MIT researcher with the Sloan School of Management, co-author of Coolhunting
Peter Gloor, MIT researcher with the Sloan School of Management, co-author of Coolhunting
Steve O'Keefe, moderator
Leading the Coolhunt today is Scott Cooper.
SCOTT: I'm really excited about where we're starting today. In Coolhunting, we talk a lot about bees and beehives. In fact, one of the original ideas for a title was "Innovation Beehive." This morning, when I went to O'Reilly Radar, there was a post entitled "Thoughts on the Hive Mind."
SCOTT: This is a post by Brady Forrest, commenting on Jordan Schwartz's concept of extended thoughts. Let's take a look at Schwartz's blog article entitled "Hive-Mind Backyard Beekeeping."
SCOTT: Schwartz tells us that 10 or 12 years ago, after reading an article by Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired Magazine, he took up beekeeping. Hive-Mind is both a blog about beekeeping as well as a site about bee behavior and its correlation to social behavior among humans. It's also a huge reference for beekeepers with resources such as books, a diary, links to buy supplies, etc.
This is really very cool to both Peter and to me. The behavior of bees is a very important part of what we talk about in Coolhunting. It illustrates key principles both in Coolhunting and in our most recent co-authored work, which is the article we have in the current issue of the magazine for MIT's Sloan School of Management. Peter actually introduced to me the whole idea of beekeeping as part of the discussions we were having.
PETER: I grew up talking about bees because my father has been a beekeeper for nearly 60 years. He still has a little house full of bees in his garden. I'm a big fan of those amazing creatures. He was always telling us what great role models the bees are. When we started working on this book, bees were the main inspiration for how we should organize the guiding principles of coolhunting.
It's really amazing how they are self-organizing, working for the greater good, and they communicate in swarms. They have a really democratic way of doing everything, even deciding who becomes their next leader in the sense that the queen who rules the hive is chosen by the bees. Perhaps "rule" is the wrong word, since she has no authority. The only thing she really does is pass on her genes.
SCOTT: A beehive is a really great example of a Collaborative Innovation Network (COIN). The queen doesn't rule or intervene in telling them what to do. The worker bees take care of her, though, primarily because she'll pass on her genes to sustain the colony. They have a lot of interest in taking care of her because the number the eggs she lays is directly related to how much food she is given.
A lot of this is what we see in COINs -- in humans who come together to organize and coordinate their daily tasks. We talk about this a lot in Coolhunting. There are many parallels with Hive-Mind and Coolhunting, such as the wisdom of crowds.
MODERATOR: This Hive-Mind post also includes a description of the waggle dance, which features prominently in Coolhunting, as the means by which bees share their knowledge with the hive.
SCOTT: For me, the most fascinating facet of bee behavior is a particular principle of coolhunting: you gain power by giving power away. This is directly related to what Peter said a moment ago -- the concept of altruism. The bees will even give their lives for the good of the hive. Perhaps that's the ultimate act of altruism.
PETER: There is a story in Switzerland that dates back to the 14th century and is told to every child. An Austrian emperor came in with a large army of knights on horses. The peasant farmers were fighting to get him out, but couldn't penetrate the blockade of mounted knights. One of the farmers threw himself on the knight's lances so the others could then run over his body and attack the knights from behind. The farmers won the battle. The story is probably made more colorful to make the principle easier to remember. The concept of altruism within COINs is quite important. You don't have to go as far as giving your own life, but stepping up for the good of the community is important -- once again, gaining power by giving power away.
MODERATOR: Do you have some examples of recent business models that have been based on the concept of giving power away?
PETER: One example is a retailer in Switzerland called Migros. It succeeded by giving away power to its customers. The founder of the company decided to not just give shares to employees but also to the customers. Migros has about 2 million owners because every customer can become a co-owner. It has worked so well that it's the biggest and most profitable retailer in Switzerland.
SCOTT: We describe this in our Sloan article. We have also talked about MySpace and Friendster -- really good examples of gaining power by giving it away. Our favorite human example is Benjamin Franklin, who gave everything away and gained tremendous power. He operated a COIN called a "junto."
MODERATOR: Johnny Appleseed is another example from that era of someone who gained power by giving away -- apple seeds, in his case. Michael Pollan writes about Appleseed in his impressive book, "The Botany of Desire." This generosity seems to not only result in successful ventures, but for some people, lasting fame, such as Linus Torvalds -- the inventor of the Linux operating system -- who we'll remember 100 years from now.
PETER: In 1991, Torvalds laid out the rules for using Linux and becoming one of his team members. The rules are transparent, undisputed, and still in use today. He's the queen bee because he follows his own rules. Like the owner of Migros, if he didn't follow his own rules, he'd be demoted; occasionally, queen bees get kicked out of their hive. Bill Gates knows when and when not to give things away. He won the battle against Netscape by giving away his web browser for free.
SCOTT: He definitely gained power in part by giving something away. Then there's the anti-competitive business practices that were part of it.
PETER: He mixes the two models very freely to Microsoft's advantage. I would like us to look next at Debian.org.
PETER: Debian is a Linux developers group, and a very active, very self-organizing swarm. They maintain one particular flavor of Linux. The group is democratic, bottom-up, self-organizing. On the left side of the home page, the first link in the "About" section is to the Debian Social Contract.
PETER: They lay out their core principles and guidelines for using their software:
1. Debian will remain 100 percent free
2. We will give back to the free software community
3. We will not hide problems
These are similar to the principles that drive COINs and hives. To show how to apply those principles to the activity of the group, Debian created a "constitution" spelling out exactly how the hive would be governed.
SCOTT: It's like the constitution Ben Franklin helped to draft. These are their rules of operation. Rules are crucial for any COIN. They all have to start from a code of ethics or behavior.
MODERATOR: So there are no rulers here, but lots of rules?
PETER: Not so many rules as decision-making bodies that resolve disputes. See the second item in the Debian Constitution -- "Decision-making bodies and individuals." It lays it all out.
SCOTT: Ben Franklin's junto had an organizing document as well.
MODERATOR: These remind me of the utopian communities that sprang up around the Boston area at the end of the 19th century. They had noble ideas, but they never spread very far.
PETER: They did not thrive because many of them did not adhere to principles of internal honestly and transparency. I've studied some research by Rosabeth Moss Kanter -- the Harvard professor who became a member of some utopian communities. Usually, there are queen bees who make rules but don't live by rules themselves.
SCOTT: Her book is called, "Commitment and Community: Communes and Utopias in Sociological Perspective." It came out in early 70s.
MODERATOR: You've used the term "COIN" often in this coolhunt. Can you explain what it means?
SCOTT: A COIN is a Collaborative Innovation Network -- people who come together for the purpose of generating and improving ideas. Look at the Wikipedia entry for "Collaborative Innovation Networks." You'll see a reference to Peter's previous book on Swarm Creativity. There's also a link to an example of a COIN where innovation was at the center of its work and the COIN is simply a way to share knowledge, which tends to be called a community of practice. The site is called SpineConnect.
SCOTT: At SpineConnect, surgeons who work on spines essentially have one central depository for information. They share their experiences. Over time, this evolved to become a place where spine surgeons would get together to collaborate and innovate in the field. New research and patents and things like that came about as a result of the collaboration engendered by this network. Some developments in spine surgery might not have happened without this site.
This collaboration has been enabled in large part by the technology that broke down distance and time barriers. Spine surgeons in different parts of the world are discovering connections they might not have otherwise known about.
MODERATOR: Bees in Minnesota dancing and being seen in New Delhi.
SCOTT: A global waggle dance.
MODERATOR: We are out of time. Thank you very much, Peter and Scott. Listeners, please post your comments to the blog -- whether they're about commentary on the subject of today's coolhunt or any connection problems you experienced.
Join us tomorrow for the next installment of our live, online coolhunt with Peter Gloor and Scott Cooper.
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