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The Post-it Note Economy: Understanding Post-Fordist Business Innovation through One of Its Key Semiotic Technologies

Eitan Wilf is a 2016–2017 Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University and an Associate Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Hebrew University (Mount Scopus, Jerusalem 91905, Israel [[email protected]]).

This essay seeks to clarify an undertheorized dimension of capitalism’s transition to post-Fordist flexible accumulation—namely, the “acceleration in the pace of product innovation” (Harvey 1990:156). Based on ethnographic fieldwork in innovation workshops organized in New York City by consultants and attended by business entrepreneurs, this essay argues that whereas cutting-edge technologies such as computerized algorithms and robotic technologies dominate many post-Fordist production and distribution systems, the Post-it note—a small rectangular piece of paper with weak adhesive properties—looms large as a key semiotic technology of idea generation in many contemporary business-innovation contexts for two reasons: (1) its small dimensions afford pragmatic ambiguity and consequently the decoupling of data from the reality of the market under the guise of its reflection, and (2) its weak adhesive properties afford the synoptic arrangement of such pseudodata on conventional visual templates of what a valid insight should look like and thus the quick production of ritual insights. In doing so, the essay builds on and contributes to recent semiotic and linguistic anthropological studies that have paid close attention to the role played by graphic artifacts in organizational knowledge production.