If Nick and I ever do a sequel to From Poverty to Prosperity, we should interview Hal Varian. Watch this talk, which has several interesting observations, particularly about how businesses are restructuring on the basis of new communication technology and the need to test ideas more rapidly. At one point, he mentions the acronym HIPPO, which stands for highly-paid, important person (I may be off on the acronym). He says that firms are starting to substitute data for HIPPOs, meaning that they can make objective decisions instead of relying on management guesswork.
The ideas that David Brooks picked up on in his Protocol Society op-ed today were ideas that Varian got me thinking about fifteen years ago. Varian and I had some email correspondence about the Internet, and he sent me some papers and gave me suggestions for other reading, including John Perry Barlow's classic essay, The Economy of Ideas. Varian's book (with Carl Shapiro), Information Rules, was highly original at the time and has aged remarkably well in the world of Internet dog-years.
Varian is scheduled to deliver the Ely lecture at the American Economic Association meetings in a couple weeks. It should be well worth attending.