Boundaries are a funny thing, aren’t they?
Boundaries exist in various realms of our everyday life. Whether it’s within relationships, hobbies, or careers, boundaries are necessary (just ask your cell membranes). With clear boundaries, you can save yourself and/or your company from getting burned by an unforgiving fire. When we define our personal boundaries in social situations, they help us understand our own preferences and value systems. Boundaries in business and finance help us feel safe and secure — like when we’re protecting our assets, managing our career path or finding competitive advantages.
Organizational design is one area where designing boundaries has been used to encourage cooperation and innovation, foster large-scale cultural shifts, and develop self-responsible teams and employees. The idea of liberating structures
, for example, was first introduced by William Torbert
, a proponent of integral approaches to leadership. Torbert wanted to explore organizational structures that would guide people to develop the skills to guide themselves. Setting simple rules in a collaborative setting can make it easier for people who don’t know each other to create something emergent together.
If boundaries in the home and corporate workplace are seen in this positive, life-altering light, why are they initially thought to be restrictiv... Read more
We humans have ants in our pants. We are road warriors, million-mile-flyers, web-surfers, because-it-was-there climbers. We come upon this tendency honestly. Our early ancestors sprung up and out of Africa 60,000 years ago, on a grand trek that involved land bridges and star navigation. The march continues to this day. Only now, on a grand scale, we really have nowhere left to go. No uncharted points on the map. No hospitable land to grab. Not many stones left unturned. Our billions have spread far and wide and down and up, scraping the sky and mining the deeps and paving even the wildest of paradises.
We social innovators are not immune to the adventurer’s inclination. As “change-makers,” we strain against the start gate, our eyes trained on the finish line. Armed with sticky notes, we rapidly prototype our way from pain point to panacea, from shame to solvency.
“We should not rush through the in-between places.”
Of course our work is needed. I am no stranger to sticky notes. I work as a strategist, helping social innovators crystallize their organizational identities squarely in the solutions space. But I am coming to realize that the rush from problem to solution may be leaving something essential in its wake. My colleagues and I are stepping into, and learning to savor, the rich and marvelous state that exists between problem and solution. A less celebrated place, for certain, but a place well worth our attention if we ... 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
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
Why is success deceptive and what does that have to do with robot brains, and more important, our current paradigm of innovation? Because nobody innovates in a vacuum, we can look at innovation as a network phenomenon. Network activity can take things that seem distant or unrelated and prove they belong together. Like dropping out of college to tinker in a garage and later running a billion-dollar company. Or vacuum tubes and computation.
“Nature has an evolutionary algorithm, and it depends on emergence.”
This is precisely what Kenneth Stanley and Joel Lehman, artificial intelligence (AI) researchers and authors of the book Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned
, wanted to understand when they invented the Novelty Search algorithm. If robots can stumble upon the right answer more effectively than working a plan, maybe there’s a lesson in there for ambitious human beings.
Nature has an evolutionary algorithm, and it depends on emergence. Nature is telling us that wild goose chases can be good or bad, depending on which scale you’re zoomed in on. It seeks novelty and will adapt and assimilate nearly everything in its path.
(time’s arrow), prevents us from mapping the great open search space that is the future. We only ge... 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
A background in geology made one thing certain for Christine Lloyd: Nature isn’t made of straight lines. Neither are people, the prima materia of organizations.
“I often use water as a metaphor in systems work,” she says. “When I get stuck on an organizational problem, I always think back to ‘what would the flow of water do here?’”
Those may sound like words uttered by a philosopher, but they’re grounded in science. The theoretical foundation of Chris’ work is complex adaptive systems, using whole systems thinking to help steer organizations and their leaders through periods of complex and unpredictable change.
Chris’ work has taken her around the world and through diverse industries. She has served as a senior executive in blue chip organizations such as Shell, ICI, Nokia, Cancer Research UK and UNICEF.
What wisdom can be gained from 20 years of applying systems science to massive organizational transformations? As our world becomes more complex, our organizations (like anything in nature) must also complexify in order to meet the demands of their environment. Drawing from her pioneering work with Nokia and UNICEF, Chris shared with d4e how she created innovative network structures to make change and innovation easier in a VUCA
world — bef... Read more