In Issue 2 of design4emergence, we work with complexity scientists, CEOs and strategists to explore the boundaries of our networks. We ask the experts how understanding networks can help us jumpstart innovation, transform teams and organizations, gain competitive advantage and solve global challenges.
Ever have questions like:
These are issues that every organization deals with every day.
When we launched design4emergence it seemed to me that we were poised at the edge of some massive discovery about how our enterprises, our social missions, and our daily lives could benefit from demystifying complex networks.
I wasn’t wrong, Yaneer Bar-Yam (from the New England Complex Systems Institute) informed me — networks create collective behavior. Further, scientists grasp the big picture of the world’s systems by studying how network interactions cause collective behaviors to emerge. Now it’s time for businesses to catch on.
“The most basic issue for organizational success is correctly matching a system’s complexity to its environment.”
— Yaneer Bar-Yam, Making Things Work
I’m not going to say that nerding out on the dynamics of complex systems will yield you a better life, make you a better leader, or game you out of a stock market crash. (Though it might, and it has for some.) What I will say is that studying networks yields insight into two of the most basic and essential forces of nature: cooperation and competition. For example, the structure of a network can encourage connectivity or invite competition and disruption, both desirable at different scales.
If we want to navigate change and be innovative in today’s highly connected world, where and how we place boundaries and design information flows is critical.
The natural dynamics of networks are at work in the interdependencies of our business ecosystems. If we can identify the patterns that these interdependent relationships create and their scale of effect, then we can understand how information moves to defy our old mechanistic models of human organizations. And it takes a different kind of mental model to grasp complexity than the ones we use to calculate ROE.
In this issue we take insights and discoveries from network science (brought to you by the likes of NECSI, SFI, MIT Media Lab, and others on the frontiers of complexity) and get down to business of uncovering the once “hidden” forces behind evolution, adaptation, competition, to the building of successful teams and organizations.
The editor would like to thank the following people for their patient tutelage in network science and its applications.
John Atkinson is a designer, architect and catalyst for whole system change. He has instigated and led projects around the world in corporate and public settings that help people design approaches that will make fundamental change to their work and lives.
Yaneer Bar-Yam is Founding President of the New England Complex Systems Institute. His research focuses on developing complex systems concepts and applying them to diverse areas of scientific inquiry and to major social problems.
Max Borders is Director of Idea Accounts and Creative Development for Emergent Order. He was the editor of the Freeman and director of content for FEE. He is also cofounder of the event experience Voice & Exit.
Dirk Helbing is Professor of Computational Social Science at the Department of Humanities, Social and Political Sciences and affiliate of the Computer Science Department at ETH Zurich.
César Hidalgo leads the Macro Connections group at The MIT Media Lab and is also an Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT.
Victoria Keziah is a twenty-year brand and business strategist committed to serving organizations that are leading the way toward positive change.
Bryan Knowles Bryan A. Knowles is a writer, coder, and complex systems aficionado. Find him on Twitter @snotskie.
Christine Lloyd is an organizational leader and the director at Dynamic Systems Associates in the UK.
Featured Artist: Marie-Noëlle Wurm
Regarding Shifting Borders:
“This particular image was supposed to evoke the idea of shifting boundaries and scales, that the landscape of a problem changes according to the scale you’re looking at it. I wanted to emphasize this by playing on perceptions in this image — the perspective is from above at the bottom right, but from the side on the top — so what looks like a flat map on one scale can actually have a lot of depth when you look at it from another angle. The islands are mountains that emerge from under the water, and yet you’re not sure how far they go… I used watercolor to evoke this blurriness of boundaries and how it might even be the water that has turned into mountains.
The water itself consists of underwater clouds, the sky flipped upside-down, and the clouds are actually nebula where stars are being born. If you look closely at the top of the drawing, you can also see little stars/cells emerging from the water, floating above the surface. I wanted to give the impression that things originate from different places than we might think they do, and that the underwater stars could also turn into ‘pollen’/cells, that create life somewhere else — in echo to the fact that iron, which comes from exploding stars in the universe billions of years ago, can now be found in our red blood cells. We are literally made from the dust of stars.
I really love the poetry that exists in science. Metaphors like these underline our connectedness to the universe and to each other, revealing how similar the microscopic realm is to the immensely huge realm and scale of the Galaxy.”
Regarding Connected Worlds:
“For this drawing, I wanted to emphasize the rhizomatic connections that exist between the variety of worlds we inhabit — where our offline and online identities are no longer separate, but part of a greater network of places and ideas and information. Some of the islands are recognizable as man-made constructions, others relate more to the natural world. There are also islands that represent information and ideas through abstract forms that could evoke cells or ‘bits’ of information, ‘threads’ that could be like strands of DNA. These threads are also bridges that connect the various islands, and are like visible strings, revealing the ‘fabric’ of the universe in which these islands float — just like the cytoskeleton of cells, which lends the structure to the cell and acts as a matrix to transport information across cell space. Each floating island is a world in itself, which can move and shift according to its needs, but there is always a sense of interconnectedness, of moving together, and of the vastness of possibilities offered by the space. I integrated these islands into a nebula-like world because nebulas are places where stars are born — and these islands, these interweaving abstract and concrete worlds, are places where ideas, innovation, and new ways of thinking and being are born.”
The editor would also like to thank the following companies for their support: