PS Drucker Essay I Wrote Later in the Week

October 11th, 2009


BURLINGAME, Calif. — I do not as a rule go in for the grandiose claims of business or technology, let alone combinations of the two. In Peter Drucker’s case, I’ll make an exception.

Drucker, who died in 2005 at age 95, was of course the great writer on business and management. He was also that rarest of things, a deeply learned, compassionate and long-range thinker (something lost among most of his readers, who in fairness are just trying to solve the problems piling up on their desks.) Therefore it is worth revisiting some of his last writings for what they say about the world we are entering.

In “The New Realities,” published in 2003, Drucker wrote that, with the development of the first computers in 1946, humankind had entered “a new basic civilization.” The mechanical world of the past was characterized by analytic thinking; our new civilization, based on information, is characterized instead by perception. In this world, management–which must deal with people’s values, growth and development in order to foster joint cooperation–is a chief branch of the humanities.

Those of us who have attended business school may recall little emphasis on the pursuit of a humanistic calling toward soul craft. Probably there was more talk about ways to promote self-interest, stick your buddy or bundle bad mortgages. And what Drucker conceived of as the typical agent of the Information Age, the “knowledge worker,” is a type now thought of as a drone in a cubicle, or perhaps a lone coder in his basement. Our fault, not Drucker’s, on both fronts, for what he was talking about in his culture of perception seems to me the very thing managers need to think about as life moves increasingly online.

The Information Age, Drucker wrote, requires that we perceive not just the parts of a situation, but the overall ecology in which a part or an individual operates. Motivation of people cannot rest solely in money, but in rewards around challenge, mission, learning and awareness of the outcomes. They must perceive who they are, what their group is doing, and how it contributes to their sense of self. Establishing strategic goals for a group begins with defining what the group is, and the ways in which it is appropriate to the task (not too large nor too small, and not necessarily long-lived.) People will need to improve their ability to perceive overall situations, and that long-derided capability, intuition.

Spooky, right? Did someone just say, “flake?”

Then consider just a few of the ways in which we see those principles acted out in our highly networked world:

Ecologies matter? Several years ago, Intel ( INTC – news – people ) research established that the typical Intel worker had at least three very different identities during the day, from, say, designing a chip with a group in Malaysia to helping prepare Congressional testimony. Our roles and identities differ in each task, as does the definition of success.

Motivation has more to do with renown and challenge? Look at any open source project, where people sweat bullets for free, hoping to aid the group. Look at social networks like Digg, which found that people worked harder if they could see the impact they were having, than they did if you just gave them money.

Perception of the self and the group matter? Any social network is based on this.

Definition matters? In a world of blogs and social networks, all companies are in effect media companies, in constant communication with customers, partners, even competitors. They have to communicate in dense, consistent ways and grow their story almost organically, if only so the attention-deficit world can follow them.

Develop intuition? Ask Google ( GOOG – news – people ) why its hiring process is so long and arduous, and they’ll tell you that they are after a certain mindset, a way of seeing and cooperating that they call “Googly.” Likewise, non-obvious investments they make, like novel forms of geothermal heat extraction, are done because they are Googly. Ask for a definition of what that means, exactly, and they’ll shrug. They just … know.

Obviously, Drucker did not have all the answers. His understanding of the world we are still striving to understand even as we build it was remarkable, however. And the fact that he saw this world’s hurly-burly of data, desire and bandwidth as a coherent and human place is strangely comforting.

Now, if only someone else could pick up where he left off.

Future of Music: Links and Things

October 5th, 2009

Dan Turner asked that I post some links to a few of the things I talked about this afternoon, so…

One thing that I regret forgetting to mention in our mini-discussion of Of Montreal is that their most recognizable tune, “Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games” is the basis of the Outback Steakhouse jingle, which is more famous than the band’s original track. Click at your own risk (it will get stuck in your head for hours, possibly days):

Now the links.

Amie Street
Hype Machine
Flux Blog
iHome’s iP1 (I forgot to mention that it uses “Bongiovi Acoustic’s”)
My 2008 Presidential Election mix, using a Muxtape clone
now defunct Mixwit
Mixtape Memory Stick
Live Music Archive
Brown Paper Tickets
Antares Technology (makers of AutoTune)
Zebra Keys
Guitar Zeros
US Air Guitar

Thanks for listening! Happy rest of the semester!

Century of the Self

October 2nd, 2009

Here is the link to the first of four episodes that make up this series. The first couple of minutes are choppy, hang in there.

There are links to the other four episodes in the right hand column.


October 1st, 2009

Those who know more about biology (and that’d be most of you) can judge how good the science is, but my point of sharing this Manga Guide to Molecular Biology is to ask whether you think this is another aspect of the future of storytelling. People tend to learn better when there is a narrative (from memorizing the Odyssey as oral presentation to Schoolhouse Rock to my finally retaining aspects of history from The Cartoon Guide to the Universe), after all.

Not Citizen Journalism

September 28th, 2009

For a good discussion about the incipient local news project between the J School, KQED, and lots of professionals, listen to the Forum podcast at — the placeholder site for the whole project is and the existing local sites are and

Monday’s Class

September 26th, 2009

I’m very happy about the panel we’ll have on Monday – the heads of social networking site Ning, discovery service Digg, and search engine Vast.
The theme will be the actualities of “crowd” behavior — its uses, how to stimulate and grow it, unintended consequences, where it’s going. Very apropos as we near the end of our course.

You should look at each of their sites before class so you are conversant with what they do. The brief descriptions below are not a proxy – spend some time with them.

digg: Jay Adelson

What is Digg?

Digg is a place for people to discover and share content from anywhere on the web. From the biggest online destinations to the most obscure blog, Digg surfaces the best stuff as voted on by our users. You won’t find editors at Digg — we’re here to provide a place where people can collectively determine the value of content and we’re changing the way people consume information online.

Ning: Gina Bianchi

Ning is the social platform for the world’s interests and passions online. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., Ning offers an easy-to-use service that allows people to join and create Ning Networks. With more than 1.5 million Ning Networks created and 33 million registered users, millions of people every day are coming together across Ning to explore and express their interests, discover new passions, and meet new people around shared pursuits. Ning was founded in October 2004 by Gina Bianchini and Marc Andreessen. The company is privately held.

Vast: Kevin Laws is the leading vertical search platform for autos, travel, and real estate, with millions of users a month making purchasing decisions through’s network of partner websites. improves the online shopping experience with the largest selection, sub-second search times, and intuitive auto, real estate, and vacation rental search that helps users find the best match on the Internet for their needs.

(note that Kevin was also involved with epinions, a consumer review site which was later purchased by

Interesting companies, possible paper topics

September 19th, 2009

I was at a conference this week and saw four companies that I thought some of you might be interested in looking at, in terms of what we’ve been discussing around new media and perceptions of the world.

Any one of them might be the basis of a good paper.

Names and addresses below. A description of the company from its Website, followed by my comments.
Affective Interfaces
Using emotion sensing technology, Affective Interfaces analyzes your customer’s facial expressions and can help you uncover the non rational influences affecting decisions from purchase to engagement. We help you understand how people are feeling about your brand, products and messaging.
(Interesting blend of the physical and virtual worlds.)

CitySourced –

CitySourced is a real time mobile civic engagement tool. CitySourced provides a free, simple, and intuitive tool empowering citizens to identify civil issues (potholes, graffiti, trash, snow removal, etc.) and report them to city hall for quick resolution; an opportunity for government to use technology to save money and improve accountability to those they govern; and a positive, collaborative platform for real action. Our platform is called CitySourced, as it empowers everyday citizens to use their smart phones to make their cities a better place. CitySourced is powered by FreedomSpeaks, the leader in interactive civic engagement.

(Hugely impactful in terms of awareness; easy to foresee civic jobs being outsourced to ad hoc crews that fill the pothole, pick up the throwaway sofa.)

Crowd Flower –

Labor, on-demand.

• Get fast turnaround times for jobs computers can’t do.
• Hire thousands of people without picking up the phone.

(Note that Crowdflower runs on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk engine. It could also be good to look at Turk as an evolving fundamental system service – outcomes if it became pervasive?)

Breakthrough –

BreakThrough connects mental health professionals with clients through secure video, phone, and web.

(Some people are creeped out by this. I think it’s great; possibly not a replacement for face/face therapy, but a useful revival of the talking cure.)

More Voices on Storytelling in MMOs

September 17th, 2009

Good article in Gamasutra on the topic, from a panel discussion at the Game Developer Conference in Austin:

A couple of my clips, fyi

September 16th, 2009

Here is that story I wrote about screen times (try and endure the related slide show for a breakdown of some behaviors):

Google Books & the book as connected object:

evolution of Internet ads:

A lecture I gave at the iSchool sometime back, “A Tour of The Humanities in 2050,” in which I talk about some tech trends and what they might mean for the self (sorry for all the “you knows”). Runs about 50 minutes, definitely not mandatory :

Students Who Know More About It Than I Do (part 17)

September 16th, 2009

Last year your classmate Jess Hemerly worked on a project at Institute for the Future called “Blended Reality.” Here is a small part of it:

” We are creating a new kind of reality, one in which physical and digital environments, media, and interactions are woven together throughout our daily lives. In this world, the virtual and the physical are seamlessly integrated. Cyberspace is not a destination; rather, it is a layer tightly integrated into the world around us.

Technology enables this transformation but, as is always the case, when we invent new technologies, they in turn re-invent us. In the realm of blended reality, the technologies and tools that we are creating change a fundamental part of our existence: the lenses through which we view and interact with the world. We are literally beginning to see and feel the world through a new set of eyes and ears—things that were previously invisible become visible, and we see the familiar in a new way. ”

…and this is from a section on blogjects. I will have a comment after.

Chapter 6

Sentient World: Giving Presence to the Non-Human Things Around Us

Sensors, programming tools, and geo-locative technology are enabling living and non-living things around us to communicate through the common human protocols we use to communicate with each other. A growing group of hackers, developers, and artists are building products and systems that allow end users to give the objects personalities by assigning them voices and accents or by tailoring a list of messages the object can send to fit the desired personality of an object.

Animals, plants, and things are blogging, using Twitter, and even mapping their movements via Google Earth and Google Maps. Some early terms have emerged to describe these networked things, both living and non-living: blogjects (things that blog) tweetjects (things that tweet), and the broader concept of the “Internet of things”—the idea that things around us are connected through the Internet through the same social web we have come to know.

While some of the current applications seem novel, many have practical implications for real-world interaction. Within this experimental world of communicative and present objects, we’ve identified a few key emerging practices.

Engaging the Environment: Choose Your Things With Purpose

The objects and non-human living things in the world around us have a lot to say about our world but no way to communicate… until now. Sensors and GPS connected to blogging and microblogging applications are allowing us to engage with things in our environment by giving them access to our own social tools. But since not everything can be easily networked (yet), experimenters have to figure out what to start with. The first step is to decide which non-human phenomena and processes we want to better understand. Then we have to decide which objects would best help us do that—which things we want to tell their stories—and engage them, whether by equipping them with sensors and translating that data into blog posts or using Google Maps API to mashup GPS data with a map.

In 2006, Beatrice da Costa’s Pigeon Blog project involved four separate releases of 16 pigeons equipped with GPS-enabled air pollution.[i] The sensors transmitted the carbon monoxide data through an online blogging/mapping tool that subsequently appeared on the web. The information gathered by each bird can be viewed by clicking on that bird’s name. The pigeons blogged and mapped the information as they flew. Another animal mapping project comes from Eugene Popatov at Bryn Athyn College in Pennsylvania. Using mail-to-map forwarding, GPS data transmitted from William the deer’s collar maps his location every five minutes on a Google Map.[ii] In both of these cases, the only human intervention is the initial arming of the animals with collars (or in the case of the deer, finding new subjects when the batteries in the GPS collar die). The animals are essentially blogging and mapping on their own.

Quote: “There’s lots of really relevant things happening all around us that are easy to dislocate yourself from, especially on the natural scale.” — Kati London