‘Whiplash’ by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe

Book Review (Non-fiction)

If you’re looking for an enlightening non-fiction read about our unpredictable future, check out Whiplash by MIT Media Lab director, Joichi Ito, and author Jeff Howe.

The thesis of Whiplash is that rapid innovation coupled with the increasing complexity of the modern world will bring an ever-increasing pace of change and leave traditional hierarchical organizations in the dust. To operate successfully in this environment, organizations need to embrace constant change and treat failure as a part of an inevitable and iterative process — placing more value on human social networks than centralized authority.

This might sound like familiar Silicon Valley doctrine, but a couple things make this book different: 1) Joi Ito has actually been using this approach to get big things done for decades, not only at the Media Lab, but throughout his formidable career, and 2) the authors apply this philosophy in very unexpected and intriguing ways — complete with case studies.

As one might expect from a book by the director of the Media Lab, there are a few obligatory chapters outlining the success of several Lab projects; however, there is a rich trove of information here, and some outstanding observations about what makes organizations effective in the modern age — nimbleness, constant adaptation, and diversity of thought.

This last concept grapples directly with the lack of cultural, gender, and ethnic diversity in high-tech and why encouraging diversity in the workplace goes well beyond social justice. Instead, it makes good business sense. That’s because the metrics for assessing new talent in such a rapidly changing world are suspect. Who will have the answer to the next big challenge facing humanity? No one knows. Given the same encouragement and training, bright minds from every strata of society are as likely to innovate — but outsiders are less likely to be saddled with institutional thinking. By nurturing a truly diverse workforce, an organization begins to see through cultural blind spots and find new opportunities.

Such diversity also extends to skillsets — encouraging not just an interdisciplinary mindset, but an anti-disciplinary one, where people with wildly different skills (in sometimes surprising combinations) come up with solutions that subject matter experts alone never would have.

There’s quite a bit more in here, and all of it told through real-world examples. While parts of the book might come across as techno-cheerleading, that’s most likely because the authors have had a front row seat to some of the more interesting plays in the history of innovation. Bottom line: this fast read is well worth your time.

To learn more about Whiplash visit:

~ Daniel Suarez is a Los Angeles based author. Visit: daniel-suarez.com ~