the following is the introduction to
Copyright © 1999, 2001 Levine, Locke, Searls & Weinberger.
if the real attraction of the Internet is not its cutting-edge bells
and whistles, its jazzy interface or any of the advanced technology
that underlies its pipes and wires? What if, instead, the attraction is
an atavistic throwback to the prehistoric human fascination with
telling tales? Five thousand years ago, the marketplace was the hub of
civilization, a place to which traders returned from remote lands with
exotic spices, silks, monkeys, parrots, jewels -- and fabulous stories.
In many ways, the Internet more resembles an ancient bazaar than it fits the business models companies try to impose upon it. Millions have flocked to the Net in an incredibly short time, not because it was user-friendly -- it wasn’t -- but because it seemed to offer some intangible quality long missing in action from modern life. In sharp contrast to the alienation wrought by homogenized broadcast media, sterilized mass "culture," and the enforced anonymity of bureaucratic organizations, the Internet connected people to each other and provided a space in which the human voice would be rapidly rediscovered.
Though corporations insist on seeing it as one, the new marketplace is not necessarily a market at all. To its inhabitants, it is primarily a place in which all participants are audience to each other. The entertainment is not packaged; it is intrinsic. Unlike the lockstep conformity imposed by television, advertising, and corporate propaganda, the Net has given new legitimacy -- and free rein -- to play. Many of those drawn into this world find themselves exploring a freedom never before imagined: to indulge their curiosity, to debate, to disagree, to laugh at themselves, to compare visions, to learn, to create new art, new knowledge.
Because the Internet is so technically efficient, it has also been adopted by companies seeking to become more productive. They too are hungry for knowledge, for the intellectual capital that has become more valuable than bricks and mortar or any tangible asset. What they didn’t count on were the other effects of Web technology. Hypertext is inherently nonhierarchical and antibureaucratic. It does not reinforce loyalty and obedience; it encourages idle speculation and loose talk. It encourages stories.
These new conversations online -- whether on the wild and wooly Internet or on (slightly) more sedate corporate intranets -- are generating new ways of looking at problems. They are spawning new perspectives, new tools, and a new kind of intellectual bravery more comfortable with risk than with regulation. The result is not just new things learned but a vastly enhanced ability to learn things. And the pace of this learning is accelerating. In the networked marketplace it is reflected in the joy of play. On company intranets it is reflected in the joy of knowledge. But it’s getting difficult to tell the two apart. Employees go home and get online. They bring new attitudes back to work the next day. Enthusiastic surfers get hired and bring strange new views into corporations that, until now, have successfully protected themselves from everything else. The World Wide Web reinforces freedom. The Internet routes around obstacles. The confluence of these conversations is not only inevitable, it has largely already occurred.
Many companies fear these changes, seeing in them only a devastating loss of control. But control is a losing game in a global marketplace where the range of customer choice is already staggering and a suicidal game for companies that must come up with the knowledge necessary to create those market choices.
While command and control may have reached a cul-de-sac, the intersection of the market conversation with the conversation of the corporate workforce hardly signals the end of commerce. Instead, this convergence promises a vibrant renewal in which commerce becomes far more naturally integrated into the life of individuals and communities.
This book tells a story. Four times. Many times. It is the story of how these things have happened -- and some powerful hints about what could happen from here on out.