McKinsey Quarterly 2003 4: 51-59.
The Social Life of Legal Information: First Impressions
This essay questions the assumption
that, as they are both assumed to be information based,
libraries and schools will be transformed with equal
ease by digital technologies. The essay points to the apparent paradox that,
while digital technology has transformed the
law library, legal education remains remarkably unchanged, and it attempts to explain why in terms
of scholarly communities rather than scholarly information. The essay speculates that it is
in part the very conservatism of legal education that has allowed the library
to innovate: the law school develops the social understanding that
makes the library usable.
First Monday 2002 7(9).
Mind the Gap
Social Thinking-Software Practice (MIT Press, 2002) for the
ACM's online magazine
Paul discusses the relationship between social
thought and software design and suggests that the rise of
Open Source software presents new challenges to both.
Ubiquity 2002 25 (August).
Local Knowledge: Innovation in the Networked Age
This article in
considers the local character of
knowledge, suggesting that regions attempting to develop
a hi-tech sector should neither strive to become another
Silicon Valley, nor leave to others do do their hi-tech
development for them, but rather attempt to form a path
between these two extremes and develop hi-tech to address
Management Learning 2002 33(4): 427-438.
Knowledge and Organization:
A Social Practice Perspective
This article for
Organization Science reflects on the paradox that from certain
perspectives knowledge appears "sticky" and
difficult to move, while from others it appears
"leaky" and difficult to prevent from moving.
The article suggests that the perspective of practice
offers the most coherent way to resolve this paradox.
Organization Science 2001 12(2): 198-213.
Creativity Versus Structure: A Useful Tension
This article for MIT's Sloan Management Review
further examines the need for a critical balance
between spontaneity and structure in innovative
Sloan Management Review 2001 42 (4): 93.
Knowledge Flow, Innovation, and Deep Craft - A Recombinant View of
On April 19, 2001, John
gave this talk as the Harvard Business School Leatherbee
An account of the lecture, entitled
Going Deeper with Brain power, can be found on
the CNet website.
Storytelling: The Scientist's Perspective
John spoke on this topic at a symposium called
Storytelling: Passport to the 21st century,
arranged by the Smithsonian.
The powerpoint slides can be reached by clicking
In The Industry Standard , John and David Rejeski, a
resident scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, argued
that high technology and environmentalism, though often
seen as natural enemies, can work together to produce a
The Industry Standard 2000 Dec. 18.
Where Have All the Computers Gone?
In this piece for Technology Review,
John reflects on the likely development of
computers, suggesting that in fifteen years or so we will
enter an age of "ecological or symbiotic
Technology Review 2001 1.
Risken der Information: Eine Gesellschaftskritik des
Paul wrote (but did not translate) these reflections on
themes from the Social Life for a German
GDI-Impuls 4, 2000 (November), 22-29.
Mysteries of the Region
This essay appeared in a collection of reflections on Silicon Valley by insiders.
collection. It notes that for more than a century, commentators
have predicted that industrial "clusters" would
disappear with improvements in communications technology.
Yet still clusters form, most noticeably in Silicon
Valley, at the heart of the latest revolution in
information technology, the Internet. How can such
clusters be explained? To answer this question, we
suggest the importance of understanding how knowledge
flows, both within firms and between them. To understand
regions, we argue, you have to look beyond information to
the social networks that can both support and inhibit the
flow of knowledge.
The Silicon Valley Edge: A Habitat for Innovation and Entrepreneurship,
eds., William F. Millar, Chong-Moon Lee, Marguerite Gong Hancock, and Henry S. Rowen.
Stanford University Press, 2000: 16-39.
Understanding Silicon Valley: Foreword
John wrote the
foreword for another book on Silicon Valley. The essay reflects his personal
odyssey from East Coast to West, ending in the Valley, as
well as his reading of this series of essays
about a place where he has lived, worked, and been a
formative influence for twenty years.
Understanding Silicon Valley: The Anatomy of an Entrepreneurial Region,
ed. Martin Kenney.
Stanford University Press, 2000: 1-15.
In the lead piece in Forbes ASAP, John reflects on the issue of trust on the
Internet. The piece discusses net-based stock-market
scams, their historical precedents, and their
implications for truth and trust in online environments.
Forbes ASAP 2000 October 2.
After All the Shouting, a Napster Compromise Seems Likely
Under this not entirely prescient title, Paul joined Hank Barry, CEO of Napster, and Hilary Rosen,
CEO of the Recording Industry, in a discussion of peer-to-peer sharing on the editorial page
of the San Jose Mercury. Paul's contribution
looked at the question from a "social
life" perspective, trying to trace not just the
technology, but the conflicting social forces at play.
San José Mercury 2000 July 24
Don't Count Society Out (A reply to Bill Joy)
The April 2000 issue of Wired
carried an article by Bill Joy, cofounder and chief
scientist of Sun Microsystems, called
"Why the Future Doesn't Need us". The article argued
that "our most powerful 21st-century
technologiesrobotics, genetic engineering, and
nanotechnologyare threatening to make humans an
endangered species." We replied.
A short version of the article appeared in
The Industry Standard ,
underneath the title,"
Re-engineering the Future." An extended version appeared in
The Invisible Future, ed. Peter Denning, McGraw Hill,2001: 117-144.
How to Capture Knowledge Without Killing It
This article appeared in Harvard Business Review.
It further explores the process-practice relationship laid out in chapter 4 of The
Social Life of Information. The article concludes that:
"Dot-com companies are a hotbed of innovative
practices. But as they mature, they find that they need
seasoned managers who can harness those practices through
the judicious application of constructive
Harvard Business Review 2000 May-June: 73-80.
Net or Spider's Web
Paul reviewed Lawrence Lessig's
important book, Code and Other Law's of Cyberspace.
Times Literary Supplement 2000 March 24.
Practice Makes Process
This critique of Business Process Re-engineering was edited from chapter 4 of
The Social Life and was followed by a response from Mike Hammer.
CIO 2000 March 1.
Practice vs Process: The Tension That Won't Go Away
Growing Up Digital
This article appeared in Knowledge
Directions. It argues that
while both firms and management theories lurch back and
forth between practice and process, these two live in
tension and managers must learn to live with both rather
than favour one over the other.
2000 1: 86-96. Available as a 232K pdf file by clicking
At the 1999 annual conference of the American
Association for Higher Education, John gave a talk called
"Growing up Digital."
2000 March/April; available in pdf format from the AAHE website.
Transaction cost economics suggest
that the firm is held together by transaction
coststhe costs of using the marketplaceand
that as costs are driven down by improvements in
communications technology, firms will shrink. In this
paper, we argued that, while conventional
transaction costs may contribute significantly to the
bulk and shape of firms, the demands of organizing
knowledge are a critical but easily overlooked factor in
explaining why firms exist, what they do, and how
California Management Review 1998 40(1): 90-111.
Republished in Reflections 1999 (1)2: 28-44,
with commentaries by Wanda J. Orlikowski and Etienne Wenger.
The University in the Digital Age
This article argued that
some of those who foresee radical changes in the
university overlook the complex relationship a university
establishes between knowledge, communities, and
credentials. We layed out our view of this complex
relationship before offering some hypothetical
institutional arrangements that might enable the
universities of the future to honor their "core
competencies" while taking the fullest advantage of
emerging technological possibilities.
Higher Education Supplement
1996 (May 10): iv-vi [renamed
"Space for the Chattering Classes"]; The
version presented here appeared in Change 1996
The Social Life of Documents
The remarkable appeal of new
browsers for the World Wide Web suggests that the
document may have a significant future in cyberspace.
Documents, however, are not mere delivery mechanisms.
They are, we suggested, both a powerful means for
structuring and navigating information space and a
powerful resource for constructing and negotiating social
space. A broader understanding of documents and their
uses will open new directions for developing document
media and allow new social practices and social groups to
Esther Dyson's Monthly Report 1995, October;
1996, May 1.
"Stolen Knowledge" was
written in response to the assumption that successful
learning occurs when learners take what teachers offer.
In this chapter, we argued that, in fact, learners tend
to take what they want. Borrowing a phrase from the great
Indian poet and Nobel laureate Rabindrath Tagore, we
describe what learners do as "stealing"
Learning Perspectives, ed. Hilary McLellan,
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology
Publications, 1996: 47-56.
In this paper, subtitled "the
past and the futurology of the book," and written
for The Future of the Book, edited by Geoffrey Nunberg
with an afterword by Umberto Eco, Paul discussed the
future of the book in the context of technological
predictions more generally and the curious alliance
between poststructuralism and futurism. He examined
distinctive claims of "supersession" and
"liberation," which revealed common threads and
contradictions in this alliance. He also discussed
bookkeeping as a form of proto-hypertext.
Future of the Book, ed. Geoffrey Nunberg, Berkeley:
CA: University of California Press, 1996: 63-102.
Keeping it Simple
"Keeping it Simple" was
written for the book
Bringing Design to Software. The chapter argued that good designers
"keep things simple" by relying on resources
that are provided by context. Those who use designs these
designs then act rather like detectives, reading context
as if it were a set of clues providing useful background
information. Designers who try to work free of context
are, from this point of view, working against simplicity
and unwittingly adding to "information
Bringing Design to Software, ed. Terry Winograd, New
York: ACM Press/Addison-Wesley 1996: 129-145.
Issues: Social and Material Aspects of Design
This article opened a special issue
of Human-Computer Interaction.
The succeeding articles then discussed the
argument it put forward. That argument addresses the
unnoticed resources provided by the embedding context of
communicative artifacts--the paper in a newspaper, the
binding of a book, etc. It suggests that this context
plays an important, though often neglected, role in
communication (and was an important resource for
designers). It argued that more attention consequently
needs to be paid to the likely affects on communication
when new media change the embedding context.
Human-Computer Interaction 1994
Organizational Learning and Communities of Practice
Organizational studies tend to take
a "top down" approach. In this paper, we
suggested that by looking away from the
"canonical," management-approved practices and
investigating instead the informal, improvisational work
that holds organizations together, it's possible to
develop a better understanding of the relationship
between work, learning, and innovation.
1991 2(1): 40-57; republished several times.
Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning
Written with Allan Collins of Bolt
Beranek and Newman and published in Education
Researcher this paper explored the idea that
learning is not a process of delivering information to
individuals. Rather, the paper proposed, all learning has
apprentice-like properties. Understood this way, both
learning and teaching look significantly different.
1989 18(1): 32-42.