Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the inside Out
  • Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the inside Out
  • Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the inside Out

Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the inside Out

5.0 1
by Douglas Rushkoff

On a landscape that seems to be transforming itself with every new technology, marketing tactic, or investment strategy, businesses rush to embrace change by trading in their competencies or shifting their focus altogether. All in the name of innovation.

But this endless worrying, wriggling, and trend watching only alienates companies from whatever it is they

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On a landscape that seems to be transforming itself with every new technology, marketing tactic, or investment strategy, businesses rush to embrace change by trading in their competencies or shifting their focus altogether. All in the name of innovation.

But this endless worrying, wriggling, and trend watching only alienates companies from whatever it is they really do best. In the midst of the headlong rush to think "outside the box," the full engagement responsible for true innovation is lost. New consultants, new packaging, new marketing schemes, or even new CEOs are no substitute for the evolution of our own expertise as individuals and as businesses.

Indeed, for all their talk about innovation, most companies today are still scared to death of it.

To Douglas Rushkoff, this disconnect is not only predictable but welcome. It marks the happy end of a business cycle that began as long ago as the Renaissance, and ended with the renaissance in creativity and collaboration we're going through today.

The age of mass production, mass media, and mass marketing may be over, but so, too, is the alienation it engendered between producers and consumers, managers and employees, executives and shareholders, and, worst of all, businesses and their own core values and competencies.

American enterprise, in particular, is at a crossroads. Having for too long replaced innovation with acquisitions, tactics, efficiencies, and ad campaigns, many businesses have dangerously lost touch with the process -- and fun -- of discovery.

"American companies are obsessed with window dressing," Rushkoff writes, "because they're reluctant, no, afraid to look at whatever it is they really do and evaluate it from the inside out. When things are down, CEOs look to consultants and marketers to rethink, rebrand, or repackage whatever it is they are selling, when they should be getting back on the factory floor, into the stores, or out to the research labs where their product is actually made, sold, or conceived."

Rushkoff backs up his arguments with a myriad of intriguing historical examples as well as familiar gut checks -- from the dumbwaiter and open source to Volkswagen and The Gap -- in this accessible, thought-provoking, and immediately applicable set of insights. Here's all the help innovators of this era need to reconnect with their own core competencies as well as the passion fueling them.

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Editorial Reviews

Seth Godin
“Get your highlighters out! There’s a worldchanging idea on each and every page.”
Publishers Weekly
By touting the value of thinking "outside the box," business experts have inspired an obsession with growth, competition and offbeat concepts, says Rushkoff (Cyberia; Coercion; etc.). In fact, he insists, the secret of success lies inside the box; businesses that focus on their core competencies, their customers' needs and their work environment come up with better innovations in the long run than those that rely on flashy ad campaigns, focus groups or off-site consultants. Smart businesses, he argues, hire employees who are deeply familiar with the company's core products and encourage innovation by cultivating a fun, collaborative work environment. Rushkoff's premise is solid, and he supports it with several convincing examples (Craig's List, XM radio and Saturn among them). In his effort to shuck the traditional case study model of business writing, however, Rushkoff often digresses into long passages of glib historical analogy. He's more entertaining, and more convincing, in the sections where he focuses on particular businesses and business people. Fortunately, there are enough of those sections to please Rushkoff's many fans. (Dec.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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6.68(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.09(d)

Read an Excerpt

Get Back in the Box

Innovation from the Inside Out
By Douglas Rushkoff

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Douglas Rushkoff
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060758694

Chapter One

The Nature of Technology

Yes, the Internet changed the world; but no, not in the way most people think.

Truth is, most people -- especially people in business -- still don't get the Internet. They tend to think of all our computers and networks as an extension of the industrialization and automation of the workplace and market, when they are actually the very opposite. They restore new life and unpredictability to pretty much anything they touch. That's because these technologies are not so important for any particular thing they can do, but for how they change our perspective on everything else.

To orient to the new interactive landscape of culture, commerce, and even consciousness, you don't have to understand how any single piece of technology works. But you do have to understand how the proliferation of all this stuff has worked to change the way people relate to everything from television and brands to business and, most of all, one another. The Internet is not a technological or even a media phenomenon: it is a social phenomenon. And in this sense, interactivity has changed everything.

Part of the reason why this is so hard to get is that most of us still think of technology and media less as ways of empowering people than as a way of controlling them. We invented technology, after all, as a way of defeating the rhythms of nature. Fire allows us to live in regions where the seasons would otherwise prevent us. Electric lights permit us to defeat the darkness of sundown. Airplanes let us cross 10 time zones in as many hours. We have alcohol and Ambien to defeat our natural sleep cycle, stimulants from caffeine to amphetamines to enforce our waking hours, and Prozac to adjust our emotional cycle to a life spent so disconnected from the circadian rhythm.

Of course, just as the use of drugs has diminishing returns, so does the use of technology to still the ebb and flow of nature. Unintended consequences, like side effects, tend to reinforce one another until we end up with a new set of circumstances as daunting as the one we were trying to control in the first place. But we hang on as long as we believe in the plan, and that there's an end to suffering in sight.

As long as each new technology we develop can serve to increase centralized authority over the unruly periphery, this can go on forever. The tremendous foundries required to produce metal canons, for example, kept the weapons of warfare in the hands of nation states. The complex and expensive presses required to print money, it is hoped, prevent anyone other than a central bank from issuing currency.

But somewhere along the way, many of the best new technologies found their way from the center to the edges. That's when the disconnected world of Ford and Sloan and the managed population changed into the connected world of Jobs and Gates and the new interactive culture they helped to spawn.

Industrial Old Age

Even if we wanted to avoid the new renaissance, we wouldn't stand a chance. For the big news is that we really have arrived at the end of the Industrial Age. It's just over. No matter what set of metrics we use to measure them, mass production, mass media, and mass marketing are all in decline. This is because the basic premise of the Industrial Age -- that technology can or even should be used to reduce complexity and repress natural, emergent patterns -- is obsolete.

Of course, we only developed such notions about technology because -- for a long time, anyway -- they worked. Well. The Industrial Age was made possible, first and foremost, by the ability to find and exploit new forms of energy and technology, usually just in the nick of time. Empires are subject to the law of diminishing returns, and can continue to expand only until the people or places they hope to dominate become too expensive to control. The Roman Empire, like that of Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and even the Mayans, collapsed because the return on investment for foreign conquests declined, and the amount of effort required to keep their populations in line wasn't worth the price.1 What made industrial society different -- at least for a while -- was our ability to find new energy sources when we needed them.

In fact, energy tells the story of the rise and impending fall of the industrial model. Before anyone knew to drill for fossil fuels, people burned wood for heat. In the process, they depleted many of the world's old-growth forests by as early as the thirteenth century. That's when Europeans turned to coal. Ironically, perhaps, it was the tremendous energy required to suck water out of mineshafts that inspired inventors like Thomas Savery and Samuel Newcomen to develop the steam engine.

Initially, however, they saw no role for this contraption in agriculture or industry, where the human body was still the primary energy source. Animals were occasionally used as beasts of burden, but they actually required more food than their human counterparts, as well as more direction. That's why, sadly, slave energy was exploited to build most of Egypt, Rome, and the early American empires: slaves were the most efficient form of energy available. Colonialism was, at its heart, a way of securing more of these human energy resources, even if it meant exploiting them from afar.

When slavery became untenable in the 1800s to Western society, it probably felt something like an energy crisis; its repercussions even led to the Civil War. A reconfigured steam engine rose to this new occasion, accomplishing with coal what used to be done with indentured muscle, and what we now call the Industrial Revolution began.2 Coal allowed for the mechanized factory, the locomotive, and, perhaps most importantly, the steamships. With coal-powered boats, newly industrialized Western nations -- predominantly England -- were capable of distributing their manufactured goods to their colonies, as well as enforcing military superiority and the trade policies that go along . . .


Excerpted from Get Back in the Box by Douglas Rushkoff Copyright © 2005 by Douglas Rushkoff. Excerpted by permission.
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