The Hybridization of Everything

In the old economy, the organizing principle was specialization. Discrete departments. Separate functions. Independent projects. In the New Economy, it's hybridization. Inter-departmental meetings. Cross-functional teams. Integrated systems.

For some people inthe New Economy, the hybridization principle is more than strictly business - it's personal. Meet three people who've become the hybrid. It's the New Economy merger of work and life, business and art, technology and the humanities.

Conall Ryan

Conall Ryan, chairman of ON Technology, a Cambridge, MA software company founded by Lotus-legend Mitch Kapor, publishes group-scheduling products - and writes hard-boiled mysteries. Except that he's running behind with Body Surf, his third book, which follows Black Gravity (1985) and House of Cards (1989). It is, well, a scheduling problem. "I have 120 solid pages, with another 70 in an in-between state," he says. "But I need to take time off to get it finished."

At the moment, Ryan's high-tech crime novel is a year late. "I do a lot of writing on the road," he says, "two hours here, three hours there." It's a matter of organizing time. "I lead an incredibly jumbled life," says Ryan. "My workweek is never shorter than 60 hours. It often turns into 80 hours. The fundamental tension is that by trying to do everything, I will, in the end, wind up feeling unfulfilled in everything."

Gurcharan Das

Or take Gurcharan Das, head of worldwide strategy for Procter & Gamble's health and beauty business. Back in the mid-1980s, Das made his mark by turning India into one of the world's largest markets for Vicks Vaporub. The pivotal moment: Das worked some magic with India's notorious bureaucracy, convincing it to classify Vicks as an all-natural herbal product. Having triumphed over the government bureaucrats, Das tripled the product's retail outlets, built an efficient new factory to make it, and saw Vicks' sales skyrocket.

In 1990, Das published his first novel, A Fine Family, a chronicle of an upper-class Indian household set in the context of the country's tumultuous politics. The reviews were so positive that Indian television bought the rights to the book and announced plans to turn it into a 24-week, 24-part miniseries. For the past two years, however, the project has been stymied by, well, bureaucratic delays.

"I'm sure they will produce it," Das says patiently from Cincinnati. "I already have my advance, and the project has a first-rate director. I'm not going to give up hope."

Jeff Rulifson

And then there's Jeff Rulifson, director of technology development for Sun Microsystems, and a man accustomed to working at high speed. He and his 35 researchers develop products that move information in nanoseconds. But Rulifson's hybrid pursuit moves at a slower pace - a much slower pace. For instance, information packets take two months to get to him from Rendili tribespeople in Kenya.

Last year, Rulifson and his wife spent several weeks with the tribe and saw, among other hardships, how the children were learning to read from British primers or Kenyan books about city life in Nairobi. Rulifson decided to use the village's myths and rituals, passed along through oral history, to create more appropriate children's books.

But it's been slow. The stories go from Rendili to broken English to polished English and back to Rendili. The biggest problem: the Rendili version of intellectual property rights. "The storyteller from the village has the right to embellish the basic stories," says Rulifson. "We have a hard time separating the core story from the embellishment." Still, Rulifson has made solid progress on about 15 stories and their accompanying drawings. "We work on it every week," he says. "You just resign yourself to the pace."

But why go through it? For that matter, why try to write a novel on top of software, or produce a television drama on top of skin cream and cough syrup?

Rulifson's answer: "In a world of electronic communication, there is something profoundly worthwhile about maintaining human contact."

It's the ultimate hybrid.

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