John Seely Brown

Visiting Scholar, USC

Supernova 2005
37 minutes, 17mb, recorded 2005-06-22
Topics: Business
John Seely Brown
John Seely Brown (or JSB as he is often called) is known for his work on business ecosystems. In this relatively short but focused talk from Supernova 2005 he covers the emotive topic of off-shoring and highlights the advantages that can be gained from understanding that it is never only a simple question of wage arbitration. The examples of innovative business practices he discusses leads to a picture of a global change in business discourse and a re-evaluation of the current definition of 'the firm'.

Using the example of Toyota's relationship with suppliers as a starting point, JSB covers four businesses where innovation is driven through interaction between suppliers and where the very nature of the traditional top-down business model is challenged. It is here that the real value in off-shoring resides and why Asia appears to be at the heart of innovation, whether it is in the realms of mastering the supply chain, manufacturing, or technological ingenuity.

It's not all doom and gloom for Western businesses, however. Although some of the largest and most famous corporations - including the automotive giants of Detroit - are locked in patterns of business behaviour that prevent the adoption of changes that could see them take their place within an innovative ecosystem, there are smaller and more agile companies already reaping the benefits. Toyota, for instance, has many suppliers within the US.

The confluence of innovative ecosystems with massively scalable technical architectures is having huge strategic ramifications and it is this that convinces JSB to propose that perhaps the real purpose of the firm nowadays is not to lower transaction costs but rather to accelerate through productive fiction the ability to learn and to innovate.

Don't miss the Q&A session at the end, which serves to reinforce many of the points made by JSB in the talk and to put some extra context around his examples.

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John Seely Brown (JSB) is currently a visiting scholar at USC. Prior to that he spent nearly two decades at Xerox Corporation as Chief Scientist and director of its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). At PARC JSB expanded the role of corporate research to include such topics as organizational learning, knowledge management, complex adaptive systems, ethnographic studies of the workscape, and nano technology.

JSB received a BA from Brown University in 1962 in mathematics and physics and followed that with a PhD from University of Michigan in 1970 in computer and communication sciences. As well as being inducted into the Industry Hall of Fame in 2004 he holds honorary degrees from Brown University, the London Business School, Claremont Graduate School, and University of Michigan.

He is a member of the National Academy of Education, a Fellow of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence and of AAAS, as well as a Trustee of Brown University, the MacArthur Foundation, and In-Q-Tel. JSB has published over 100 papers in scientific journals and was awarded the Harvard Business Review's 1991 McKinsey Award for his article, "Research that Reinvents the Corporation" and again in 2002 for his article "Your Next IT Strategy".

His most recent book (co-authored with John Hagel) - "The Only Sustainable Edge" - concerns new forms of collaborative innovation. It also provides a novel framework for understanding what is really happening in off-shoring in India and China and how each are inventing powerful new ways to innovate, learn, and accelerate capability building.


This program is from the Supernova 2005 series.

For Team ITC:

  • Description editor: Graham Stewart
  • Post-production audio engineer: Bruce Sharpe
  • Series producer: Jim Alateras

This free podcast is from our Supernova series.