Low Tech Networks

Everything is different now that we’re all knowledge workers, right? The digital world has changed everything… hive mind… singularity… chaos! change! panic! PANIC!

Maybe. Maybe not.

Yesterday I talked about the risks and rewards of low-tech innovation – if we re-think the most basic parts of our value networks, the parts that we take for granted, we can find great opportunities. Then today I read this in Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford discussing motorcycle repair (emphasis mine):

You also develop a library of sounds and smells and feels. For example, the backfire of a too-lean fuel mixture is subtly different from an ignition backfire. If the motorcycle is thirty years old, from an obscure maker that went out of business twenty years ago, its proclivities are known mostly through lore. It would probably be impossible to do such work in isolation, without access to a collective historical memory; you have to be embedded in a community of mechanic-antiquarians.

In all this talk of digital transformations, it is easy to forget that we are talking about systems and processes that have been around for a long time. A lot of the digital things that seem new to us now are simply new in digital form, not in general.

Crawford’s example shows how no matter how low- or high-tech our profession, we still depend on our network for storing, filtering and finding information – the extended brain works in all fields. And it is this network that creates value, that generates ideas, that innovates.

All of our economic and intellectual activity takes place within networks. The ones in which we’re embedded play a substantial role in what we are able to accomplish as individuals. It doesn’t matter if we’re twittering, developing a scientific theory in the 19th century, fixing motorcycles, writing a PhD, figuring out a new way to our job, or just thinking about something. Our networks help us create ideas, and they help us spread those ideas. They even help us craft those ideas. The better we know our networks, the more effective our ideas will be. That’s how we deal with the challenges of the digital age – through our networks.

(photo from flickr/zen under a Creative Commons license)

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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5 thoughts on “Low Tech Networks

  1. I really need to read that book when I get a moment. The part that first got me interested was the second part of your above quote (which I read a while back on O&M: http://organizationsandmarkets.com/2009/06/02/shop-class-as-soulcraft/)

    “…you have to be embedded in a community of mechanic-antiquarians. These relationships are maintained by telephone, in a network of reciprocal favors that spans the country. My most reliable source, Fred, has such an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure European motorcycles that all I have been able to offer him in exchange is deliveries of obscure European beer”.

    It’s a nice example of how social exchange and barter work within networks.

  2. You’re welcome to borrow my copy next week Sam. I’m not far enoughr in yet to know if there is more that will help you other than just that particular quote. Good book though so far…

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