What “Peer Progressives” Bring to Corporations

Steven Johnson’s new book “Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age” shows that “collaborative peer networks outperform free-market arrangements all the time,” according to the Guardian.

Steven Johnson’s new book Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age shows that “collaborative peer networks outperform free-market arrangements all the time,” according to the Guardian.

Image by Greg Morris courtesy of Riverhead Books.

“The world is full of problems that can be solved by peer networks” says Steven Johnson, author of the new Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age (Riverhead, 2012).

“A growing number of us,” he says in an online video produced by the book’s publisher, “think that the core principles that govern the design of the net could be applied to solve different kinds of problems.”

Johnson’s book celebrates what he calls “peer progressives.” These are people who believe that organizations can accomplish all sorts of tasks through the power of peer networks. It provides examples of peer networks at work in communities, journalism, technology, incentives, governance and corporations.

The book’s corporation section looks at practitioners of the concept of “conscious capitalism,” a movement that encourages business leaders to think about the interdependencies of businesses along with their own corporate performance. Practitioners of conscious capitalism include Whole Foods Market and The Container Store.

A review in the Guardian notes that the book “is a call to support what he presents as a new kind of politics, based neither on traditional left-wing ideas of big government nor traditional right-wing ideas of big markets.” The Guardian‘s Oliver Burkeman writes:

in the world of commerce, the book shows, collaborative peer networks outperform free-market arrangements all the time. Johnson celebrates a resurgence of interest in “prize-backed challenges”, funded by governments or private individuals, similar to the one that famously led to the solving of the problem of longitude.

The best hopes for everything from a cure for AIDS to viable private spaceflight may lie in such schemes. It is a central premise of such challenges that the resulting knowledge be shared, so that the network’s “hive mind” can implement and improve it.

The pure market approach would be to protect it with a patent. This is a key distinction between libertarians and peer progressives: many libertarians love patents. “All of that emphasis on freedom,” Johnson writes, “vanishes when intellectual property is on the table.”

For more on how these ideas play out in real companies, take a look at this video, of highlights from the 2011 CEO Summit of the Conscious Capitalism organization:

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