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It's Alive: The Coming Convergence of Information, Biology, and Business Hardcover – May 13, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The hackneyed trope of businesses as organisms in an economic ecosystem is updated in this informative but puffed-up volume of management theory. According to Meyer and Davis, authors of the New Economy manifesto Blur: The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy, the next big thing will be a "molecular economy"-biotechnology, nanotechnology and materials science-based on biological processes or things that mimic them. They spend several chapters on a tour of up-and-coming technologies, but their interest in them is mainly as avatars of a new managerial zeitgeist. In a coming age of unprecedented "volatility," businesses must abandon efforts to craft the perfect plan for the future and engineer the environment, and should instead embrace an evolutionary paradigm of "adaptive management" based on biological principles. Successful organizations must "self-organize" instead of relying on command-and-control, "recombine" best practices from diverse sources, "sense and respond" to changing conditions, "seed, select and amplify" a multitude of innovations and constantly "destabilize" themselves. Drawing on case studies of organizations including the Capital One credit card company and the Marine Corps, the authors apply these insights to basic business functions like inventory, pricing, product development and Web services. Their fluent, breathless style, replete with outré theorizing, maintains a relentless tone of future-shock over developments that are mostly high-tech extensions of age-old business practices. While some of their farther-out prognostications-e.g., virtual-reality "experience machines"-may prove that nothing gets dated faster than futurism, there are enough pragmatic applications here for alert executives to chew on. 18 line drawings.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.


“Holy cow! Integrating biology, management, nanotech, and evolution—if you loved James Gleick’s Chaos, you’ll love It’s Alive.”—SETH GODIN, author of Survival is Not Enough

“Clearly captures the profound impact that biologically inspired technology and technology-infused biology will have on every aspect of our economy and society.” —RAY KURZWEIL, inventor and author of The Age of Spiritual Machines

“The book to read for anyone concerned about business innovation at a time when nothing seems to be going right.”—Antonio Damasio, Van Allen Professor of Neurology, University of Iowa, and author of Looking for Spinoza

“Read this exciting and sweeping book to regrind your own conceptual lenses for understanding business in the twenty-first century—the age of discontinuity.”—JOHN SEELY BROWN, former director of Xerox PARC

“The Web is marrying the biological revolution and driving change in one industry after another. Chris Meyer and Stan Davis not only describe the coming revolution but provide a plan for prospecting in it.”—Juan Enriquez, director of the Life Sciences Project,
Harvard Business School, and author of As the Future Catches You

“A CEO-level guide to the forces reshaping our economy. Meyer and Davis have created an essential tool kit for future growth.”—Mick Yates, former group chairman, Johnson & Johnson Consumer

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business; 1 edition (May 13, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400046416
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400046416
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,540,516 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Christopher Meyer is dedicated to anticipating and shaping the future of business. He has pursued this goal as entrepreneur, executive, consultant, leader of a think tank, and author. Two consistent threads run through Meyer's writing: adaptive enterprise and network-based business innovation. Adaptive enterprise refers to the application of lessons of biology to the design of enterprises with the capacity to sense, respond to, and adapt to changes in their environment. Network-based business innovation makes the case for leveraging networks of individuals - both within and outside an organization - to garner different perspectives on a problem, recombine them to generate new approaches, and then apply selective pressure to 'squeeze out' the most inventive and useful ideas. These two threads coalesce into the overarching theme of Meyer's thought leadership, namely the application of network science to business and innovation.

Meyer has published three books, including BusinessWeek Best Seller "Blur: The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy," "Future Wealth," and "It's Alive: The Coming Convergence of Information, Biology, and Business." He blogs on the Harvard Business Review site, and has contributed to publications including Harvard Business Review, Sloan Management Review, Fast Company, TIME, The Wall Street Journal, and BusinessWeek. Meyer is currently in the process of writing his fourth book, "Standing on the Sun," about how capitalism evolves as the economic center of gravity shifts to low-income, fast-growth, digital-native economies, which will be published by Harvard Business School Press in November of 2011.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
It's Alive has an unusual perspective. The authors argue that the valuable innovations of the next ten years are being developed in the research laboratories and advanced developments of organizations and companies today. The template is looking backward at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center in 1971 as a way to have gotten a preview of today's computer-connected society.
The book will primarily appeal to those with an interest in applying complexity science and biological analogies through information technology to large organizations. Most of the applications here require tens of millions of dollars to do. So for those in small organizations, the examples will seem out-of-reach.
The main advantage of this book over similar books is that it has more and more contemporary examples and a further development of its concepts than the predecessors that I have read.
From looking at technological developments that are available now and those that are in process, Christopher Meyer and Stan Davis see the maturing of the information technology revolution occurring at the same time as the commercialization of various "molecular" technologies (such as nanotechnology, biotechnology and materials science). Because the two fields operate conceptually in similar ways, the authors point to a convergence that has begun between the two fields that will probably grow in the future. They also draw key lessons from the way that evolutionary biology operates to prescribe for business organizations in the future.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Rolf Dobelli HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Running a business these days feels like going on a blind date with the future. Most efforts to understand what lies ahead take on a rather breathless quality, lapsing into technobabble as they struggle to avoid the future's central truth: unknowability is its essence. Marshall McLuhan once observed that anticipating the future is like steering an automobile by looking into your rearview mirror. Yes, seeing where you've been does give you some idea of where you're going...but not much. That said, We strongly recommends this look into the crystal ball of technology. It's a clear improvement over most works of the future-shock genre. Soundly rooted in practical business applications, and presenting surprising examples and possibilities without resorting to mind-numbing jargon, this book will prove very useful to anyone savvy enough to realize that just improving your business is no longer enough.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is an original work that provides rich detail about why and how companies must adapt. As a college professor, working on an article about contingency marketing, I found "It's Alive" to have numerous insights and examples that will greatly help my work, if not my teaching. While many of the concepts are abstract, the authors almost always manage to make their points effectively and realistically. I enjoyed reading this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ingo Leung on September 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Compared with Davis & Meyer's excellent 1998 work 'Blur', the theme & concept of 'It's Alive' is much more abstract & provocative. 'The coming convergence of information, biology, & business' sounds like another 'management fad'; but as I enjoy 'Blur' very much, I gave the book a try & realized that my initial impression was wrong. Davis & Meyer managed to vividly elaborate their theme, with real-world examples & coherent arguments. I find their work to be highly pragmatic in guiding visionary leaders to shape their organization into an adaptable one.
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