Nature is the only system that has been stamped robust by time. Once we recognize businesses are living systems and not machines, as ecosystem designers of any stripe be it corporate leader or parent, we are faced with the most important question of all: When to intervene?
We in the West tend to take a proactive stance. We have a bias to action. We take the initiative. We seek to control the situation. This has hidden costs. One is that we are all overstimulated — which manifests in high blood pressure and a myriad of stress-related illnesses. These are side effects of an overactive stance. But there are more direct costs, too.
is the medical term for harm from intervention or death by treatment. It is the third leading cause of death in America. Treatment kills more people every year in the United States than any single cancer. This would make health care a pretty slow-learning field, as they have had the Hippocratic oath
(First Do No Harm) for 24 centuries. But health care at least recognizes the notion of harm from treatment. As Nassim Taleb has pointed out, politics and economics have no such term.
In the inaugural issue of design4emergence, biologist Rolf Muertter asked, “Read more
How does the way information is organized in networks affect what we can achieve as human beings?
In this issue of d4e we ask, “Where are the old borders and boundaries of our countries, firms and financial systems reshaping? How are the lines of our communities and even our ideologies shifting? How does cooperation work?” Network science applies research from information theory, game theory, complexity theory and physics to understand all of these things, which boil down to how information organizes itself into networks to shape the world we live in.
César A. Hidalgo
, head of the Macro Connections group at MIT Media Lab
and author of Why Information Grows
, puts it a little more simply: No matter what the world is doing, it is organizing information. It’s this order we’re trying to understand when we want to build the systems we need to make our way in the world.
d4e: Why is something like information theory so important in understanding how the world works?
César Hidalgo: As a kid I wanted to study physics. I... Read more
This is the text version of remarks given by the author on June 26, 2016, at a panel on the Moral Economy of Tech at the SASE conference in Berkeley to an audience of social scientists. The other panel participants were Kieran Healy, Stuart Russell and AnnaLee Saxenian. This piece originally appeared on the author’s blog, Idle Words.
I am only a small minnow in the technology ocean, but since it is my natural habitat, I want to make an effort to describe it to you.
As computer programmers, our formative intellectual experience is working with deterministic systems that have been designed by other human beings. These can be very complex, but the complexity is not the kind we find in the natural world. It is ultimately always tractable. Find the right abstractions, and the puzzle box opens before you.
The feeling of competence, control, and delight in discovering a clever twist that solves a difficult problem is what makes being a computer programmer sometimes enjoyable.
“The real world is a stubborn place. It is complex in ways that resist abstraction and modeling.”
But as anyone who’s worked with tech people knows, this intellectual background can also lead to arrogance. People who excel at software design become convinced that they have a unique ability to understand any kind of system at all, from first principles, without prior trainin... Read more
Leading in the Network Age: The first in a series on Economic Complexity and Network Quotient (NQ)
“It is more useful to notice what has already happened and gone unnoticed than it is to try and predict the future.”
— Peter Drucker
Predicting the future is a fool’s errand. And none of us have the time to waste. In fact, we have less and less time to waste and certainly no one wants to be the fool. And yet we must lead, guide organizations and make decisions. In the network age, we don’t have the option of standing still. Business and life are accelerating. Organizations must adapt or die. Can I? Can my organization? Or am I a 'dead man walking'?
The greatest tectonic shift for business in the last 30 years is the rise of the network-based economy. Most of us didn’t fully appreciate the shift as it happened around us and in our lives.
For examples, look at the Blackberry vs. the iPhone. One was a piece of technology. One was an ecosystem of network innovation in which the creation of positive feedback loops among developers and consumers catalyzed an exponential explosion in growth and functionality.
We increasingly see value being created in networks and ecosystems that extend far beyond traditional organizational and personal boundaries. Definitions of competition are morphing and blurring. We’re no longer competing against individual companies, we’re competing against ecosystems. Think Apple vs. Android. And fir... Read more
There is new light for the dismal science. Economics as a social science is concerned with the foundational factors underlying the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. And over the last century the application of economic analysis has spread and is seen across a diverse fields (business, finance, health care, government) and subjects (war, crime, education, law, politics, religion, social institutions, science, environment). Economics has become one of the most complex of fields to study and understand. But instead of growing more dismal, there is new light. Network scientists are providing old fields like economics with new ways to look at and understand these complex, networked systems. All too often, those furthest from the core discipline of a problem are most likely to provide an innovative solution.
In the words of MIT scientist César Hidalgo
, economics is a relatively ephemeral subject, resting on deep roots in a process that goes back to the foundations of energy and matter and information.
And in viewing the economy in such primal terms, he concludes that the factors that drive resilience and innovation in nature’s networks or ecosystems — namely diversity — should likewise be predictive of an economy’s resilience, innovation, and ability to grow.
Traditional economic measures fail to capture the kind of diversity that drives growth. Identifying factors of production such a... Read more
The term ‘resilience’ is thrown around quite a lot lately. Whether it be in our personal or professional lives, we all know that being resilient is crucial to both survival and success. But what does resilience really mean? In network science, resilience is the ability of a system to withstand perturbations from its environment. In plain English, that basically means to roll with the punches. What does that look like at the firm level — for strategists, teams, and organizational leaders? What knowledge can we apply from network behaviors toward building more resilient, sustainable communities?
"In nature, the systems most likely to survive are the ones that can adapt to diverse environmental circumstances. Often that means being able to change as demands from the environment become ever more complex."
Dr. John Izzo
is an employee engagement expert, the author of six books including Stepping Up
, and a network science enthusiast who applies his knowledge of complex systems to helping organizations such as NASA, IBM, and Microsoft navigate complex challenges and transitions. According to Dr. Izzo, one of the best ways to understand resilience on an individual and community level is to look closely at nature. In nature, the systems most likely to survive are ... Read more