The co-evolution of technology and organising

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —May 22, 2009
Filed in Communication

The technology we use changes the way we organise and the way we organise effects the technologies we use. This hand-in-glove interaction is called co-evolution. Take the example of the invention of the spinning frame during the industrial revolution of the 18th century. The spinning frame made possible large scale cloth production and created the need for factories, which in turn affected how water and steam were used to drive machinery in those factories.1

Are we seeing a similar co-evolution between information dissemination technology and how knowledge programs are organised? The two killer apps for the PC have been the word processor and the spreadsheet. With these two tools we were able to create documents. Consequently many knowledge sharing initiatives focus on creating and sharing documents. This limited us to sharing what we could write down.

YouTube started in 2005 (here is the first video uploaded to the site). It’s a site for sharing videos. Now that it’s easy to share videos more companies are building this form of information dissemination into its knowledge sharing programs. The interesting thing is that the tool changes the type of knowledge shared. It seems to me that videos encourage us to share practices and tell a story of what happened or how to do something. This type of knowledge helps us share values, principles and lessons in a more compact and digestible way. Sure, documents can be used to do that too but that wasn’t the default use and it took so much effort.

As we witness the rise of the video we’ll need to develop other skills to make the most of it. Most importantly, you guessed it, video creators will need to be adept at finding and telling stories. Just as we learned the language of documents (structure, headings, font sizes, margins, footnotes etc.) we will need to learn the language of video. And that language will partly involve characters, events, action, time and place.

1. Beinhocker, E. D. (2006). The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics. Boston, Harvard Business School Press.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. Hi Shawn, now I understand your tweets :). I think a technology doesn’t stick unless it fits in with social structure and some (previously unknown) needs. Like sms fits with a need to take more distance and intrude less in an individualistic networked world. No-one would have predicted that sms would be big!

  2. Tom Glaisyer says:

    Mike Wesch at PDF gave his take on the challenge to culture. See here Appreciate the link to the book above.

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