Friday, December 31, 2010

You Gotta Believe

Brian Trent, Utne Reader, January - February 2011

“Barack Obama won’t show us his birth certificate,” says Steve, a Connecticut resident and small-business owner, while he’s shoveling his walk. “He’s a Muslim terrorist. And you know what really bothers me? He is doing exactly what Hitler did.”

Steve has plenty of other opinions relating to the American president, culture, and society. He can rattle off the prized talking points of this country’s culture of belief without missing a beat: The moon landing was a hoax; the world is ending in 2012; 9/11 was an inside job; creationism is valid science.

A hardworking fellow and family man in a postindustrial factory town of a blue state, Steve does not come across as fanatical. Yet his adherence to raw belief—a position unassailable by factual counter-data—is more than an inherently dangerous American mind-set. It is a deadly challenge to the aim of humanism.

The “belief” mind-set is pretty common in the news these days. Much of the believers’ ire seems directed at the current presidential administration, and it’s now getting legal attention: The U.S. Army is set to court-martial a soldier who refused deployment to Afghanistan because the soldier—Lieutenant Colonel Terry Lakin—shares with Steve the belief that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen. Neither Lakin nor Steve nor thousands of other “birthers” can put forth any evidence, documentation, or data that withstands the test of scrutiny. They just, well, believe it.

Read more:

OK, I guess it's time to read a book I purchased some month's ago, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Movements, Eric Hoffer, Harper Perennial Classic, 2002. After I do, I will write abook review on the subject.

Android Nightmares

Eric Utne, Utne Reader, Januray - February 2011

"Have you noticed the latest TV ads for the Droid, a Verizon mobile phone that uses Google’s Android operating system? One features a handsome young man sitting in a business meeting. He pulls out his Droid, flips open the keyboard, and begins typing at increasingly superhuman speed. First his fingers, then his hands, and finally his arms turn into sophisticated circuitry—the bionic man. The sell line comes via a voice-over at the end of the commercial: “Turning you into an instrument of efficiency.”

Another ad for the device shows the iris of the user’s eye transforming into digital circuitry as he merges with his technology.

What’s the message here? I believe it’s that Google, the company whose maxim is “Don’t be evil,” has given itself over to a vision of the future in which human and machine morph into a monstrous hybrid. As Google’s cofounder Sergey Brin recently declared, “We want to make Google the third half of your brain.”

Brin and Larry Page, the visionary entrepreneurs who together founded Google, are unabashed enthusiasts and promoters of what has come to be known as “the Singularity,” a vision of the near future in which human beings and machines merge so that illness, old age, and even death become things of the past.

Computer pioneer Bill Joy sounded the alarm about the Singularity a decade ago, in a Wired article titled “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us.” He argued for voluntary relinquishment of genetic, robotic, and nano technologies, warning that intelligent robots could soon dominate humanity, and that all of nature could be swallowed in an oozing sea of tiny “gray goo” machines."

Read more:

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

After Shock: The Next Economy and America’s Future

Robert Reich latest book should act as a wake-up call to all Americans. I believe that the majority of Americans are unaware of the tremendous transfer of wealth and power that has occurred over the last 20 years. Embedded in the environment, accepting the business-market paradigm, and subjected to gradual change, they like the frog in the pot of water slowly brought to a boil, are in danger of perishing.

The chart below shows what has happened in this transfer of wealth. Another way to indicate this, using Motion Chart, can be found in my blog.

“As Mark Twain once observed, history does not repeat itself, but it sometimes rhymes. Had America not experienced the Great Depression, policymakers eighty years later would not have learned how to use fiscal and monetary policies to contain the immediate economic threat posed by the Great Recession. But we did not learn the larger lesson of the 1930S: that when the distribution of income gets too far out of whack, the economy needs to be reorganized so the broad middle class has enough buying power to rejuvenate the economy over the longer term. Until we take this lesson to heart, we will be living with the Great Recession's after-shock of high unemployment and low wages, and an increasingly angry middle class.

The wages of the typical American hardly increased in the three decades leading up to the Crash of 2008, considering inflation. In the 2000S, they actually dropped. According to the Census Bureau, in 2007 a male worker earning the median male wage (that is, smack in the middle, with as many men earning more than he did as earning less) took home just over $45,000. Considering inflation, this was less than the typical male worker earned thirty years before. Middle-class family incomes were only slightly higher.

But the American economy was much larger in 2007 than it was thirty years before. If those gains had been divided equally among Americans, the typical person would be more than 60 percent better off than he actually was by 2007. Where did the gains go? As in the years preceding the Great Depression, a growing share went to the top. It was just like Eccles's "giant suction pump," drawing "into a few hands an increasing portion" of the nation's total earnings.
Economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty have examined tax records extending back to 1913. They discovered an interesting pattern. The share of total income going to the richest 1 percent of Americans peaked in both 1928 and in 2007, at over 23 percent. The same pattern held for the richest one-tenth of 1 percent (representing about 150,000 households in 2007): Their share of total income also peaked in 1928 and 2007, at over 11 percent. And the same pattern applies for the richest 10 percent, who in each of these peak years received almost half the total.

Between the two peaks is a long, deep valley. After 1928, the share of national income going to the top 1 percent steadily declined, from more than 23 percent to 16-17 percent in the 1930S, then to 11-15 percent in the 1940S, and to 9-11 percent in the 1950S and 1960s, finally reaching the valley floor of 8-9 percent in the 1970S. After this, the share going to the richest 1 percent began to climb again: 10-14 percent of national income in the 1980s, 15-19 percent in the late 1990S, and over 21 percent in 2005, reaching its next peak of more than 23 percent in 2007. (At this writing, there are no data after 2007.) If you look at the shares going to the top 10 percent, or even the top one-tenth of 1 percent, you'll see the same long valley in between the two peaks.”

Henry Ford’s greatest innovation was that he paid his workers enough money, and reduced the price of the cars, so that they could buy the cars they were making. (See Innovation History of Auto Industry: 1820 to 1970 for more information.)

“On January 5, 1914, Henry Ford announced that he was paying workers on his famously productive Model T assembly line in Highland Park, Michigan, $5 per eight-hour day. That was almost three times what the typical factory employee earned at the time. In light of this audacious move, some lauded Ford as a friend of the American worker; others called him a madman or a socialist, or both. The Wall Street Journal termed his action "an economic crime." Ford thought it a cunning business move, and history proved him right. The higher wage turned Ford's autoworkers into customers who eventually could afford to plunk down $575 for a Model T. Their purchases in effect returned some of those $5 paychecks to Ford, and helped finance even higher productivity in the future. Ford was neither a madman nor a socialist, but a smart capitalist whose profits more than doubled from $25 million in 1914 to $57 million two years later.

Ford understood the basic economic bargain that lay at the heart of a modern, highly productive economy. Workers are also consumers. Their earnings are continuously recycled to buy the goods and services other workers produce. But if earnings are inadequate and this basic bargain is broken, an economy produces more goods and services than its people are capable of purchasing.”

This can lead to a vicious cycle instead of the virtuous cycle desired.

It’s interesting to note how Americans compensated for their lost purchasing power. Reich identifies three coping mechanisms:

1. Women moved into paid work
2. Everyone worked longer hours
3. We drew down our savings and borrowed to the hilt

We’ve now done all that and we now have no way to sustain our standard of living.

“It should be apparent that there will be no return to "normal;' because the old normal got us into our present predicament and can't possibly get us out. So what comes next?

In order to fix what needs fixing, we need to be clear about what broke. The underlying problem is not that financial institutions were reckless, although they were. The ultimate solution, therefore, isn't just to make them more prudent. Nor is the central problem that consumers borrowed too much, although they did. The solution, therefore, isn't merely to get Americans to save more and consume less.

To summarize: The fundamental problem is that Americans no longer have the purchasing power to buy what the U.S. economy is capable of producing. The reason is that a larger and larger portion of total income has been going to the top. What's broken is the basic bargain linking pay to production. The solution is to remake the bargain.”

Not only is money being concentrated at the top, there is significant information to indicate that the “game is rigged”. Money buys political and judicial power so that those institutions fight any change to alter the game. They are playing the child’s game, “Tick tock, the game is locked and no one else can play.”

“As lobbying has become more lucrative, an ever larger portion of former federal officials has turned to it. In the 1970S, only about 3 percent of retiring members of Congress went on to become Washington lobbyists. But by 2009 more than 30 percent did, largely because the financial incentives from lobbying had become so large. Starting salaries for well-connected congressional or White House staffers had ballooned to about $500,000. Former chairs of congressional committees and subcommittees commanded $2 million or more to influence legislation in their former committees. According to the Center for Public Integrity, between 1998 and 2004 (years picked because they straddled Democratic and Republican administrations) more than twenty-two hundred former federal officials registered as lobbyists, as did more than two hundred former members of Congress.”

And later, he writes,” The point is that a staggering amount of money from big corporations, executives, and other wealthy individuals lies like a thick fog over the nation's capital, enveloping everyone and everything. Not only has it enriched Washington lobbyists, lawyers, and public relations professionals, and seduced thousands of ex-congressmen, but it has also transformed Washington into a glittering city of high-end restaurants and exquisite hotels. It has boosted the price of Washington real estate. Even home prices in its surrounding counties proved remarkably resilient during the Great Recession. Seven of Washington's suburban counties are listed by the Census Bureau as among the nation's twenty with highest per capita incomes.”
One of Reich’s biggest concerns is the rise of a demagogue. He devotes a chapter, The 2020 Election, to a potential scenario of Independence Party gaining power, and it’s frighteningly realistic.

As if to accentuate this point to me I received an e-mail from Clarus Research on 12/22/10 with part of title reading Nation in Decline:

In a year-end nationwide poll conducted by the nonpartisan Clarus Research Group assessing the mood of the country and the next presidential election, a whopping 85 percent of voters say they agree with the statement, "In many ways America is in decline and we need strong, competent leadership to get us back on track." "The public mood is bigger than the sum of its parts," said Faucheux, president of Clarus Research Group. "Regardless of how voters feel about specific issues or personalities, there is a widely shared sense across partisan labels that the nation is in decline and needs strong, competent leadership to get it back on track. This deep public concern has serious implications on how elected officials handle major issues and how the 2012 candidates position themselves."

Nearly half of all voters--48 percent--also say "it would be good for the country to elect a nonpartisan President who is neither a Democrat nor a Republican."

"You'd expect independent voters to want an independent President. But more than two out of every five Democrats and Republicans also say electing a nonpartisan President is a good idea," said Ron Faucheux, president of Clarus Research Group. "There is clearly potential for an independent candidate to do quite well in 2012."

“To be sure, prolonged economic stress could open the door to demagogues who prey on public anxieties in order to gain power. A classic sociological study of thirty-five dictatorships found that when people feel economically threatened and unhinged from their normal habits, they look to authority figures who promise simple remedies proffering scapegoats.”

He describes and defends several suggestions to change the situation:

• A reverse income tax
• Higher marginal tax rates on the wealthy
• A reemployment sytem rather than an unemployment system
• School vouchers based on family income
• College loans linked to subsequent earnings
• Medicare for all
• Increase in public goods
• Money out of politics

Reich writes, “We have been at this juncture before. Our history swings much like a pendulum between periods during which the benefits of economic change are concentrated in fewer hands, and periods during which the middle class shares broadly in the nation's prosperity and grows to include many of the poor-between periods during which we see ourselves as "in it together;' and periods during which we view ourselves as being pretty much on our own. Roughly speaking, the first stage of modern American capitalism (1870-1929) was one of increasing concentration of income and wealth; the second stage (1947-1975), of more broadly shared prosperity; the third stage (1980-2010), of increasing concentration. It is vital for our future that we commence a fourth stage, in which broad-based prosperity is again the norm.

Our history is not quite a pendulum because we never return exactly to where we were before. It is more like a spiral, in which we arrive at roughly the same points but at different altitudes and with somewhat different perspectives. Yet each turn of the spiral gives rise to similar questions about the nature and purpose of an economy. How much inequality can be tolerated? When bets go sour and the economy nosedives, who gets bailed out and who are left to fend for themselves? At what point does an economy imperil itself politically, as large numbers conclude that the game is rigged against them? Most fundamentally, what and whom is an economy for?”

At the beginning of the book is a quote from Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Cycles of American History

“Epochs of private interest breed contradictions ... characterized by undercurrents of dissatisfaction, criticism, ferment, protest. Segments of the population fall behind in the acquisitive race .... Problems neglected become acute, threaten to become unmanageable and demand remedy .... A detonating issue-some problem growing in magnitude and menace and beyond the market's invisible hand to solve-at last leads to a breakthrough into a new political epoch. “

A positive outcome or path is not guaranteed. Our role is to assure that we emerge with an even stronger democracy with more access to and participation in the political, economic and judicial systems.

After Shock: The Next Economy and America’s Future, Robert Reich, Knopf, 2010, 174 pp

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Transforming Cultures from Within

Anderson, Amodeo and Hartzfeld summarize their work how businesses can change the culture of their organization to embracing sustainability while still being profitable. They open the article with:

“The current Industrial Age was born out of the Enlightenment and the unfolding understanding of humanity’s ability to tap the power and expansiveness of nature. The mindset that was developed early in the Age was well adapted to its time, when there were relatively few people and nature seemed limitless. Unfortunately, this mindset is poorly adapted to the current reality of nearly 7 billion people and badly stressed ecosystems. A new, better-adapted worldview and global economy are being born today from a greater understanding of how to thrive within the frail limits of nature.

Vital to the transition of the economy is the very institution that serves as its primary engine: business and industry. To lead this shift, business must delve much deeper than just the array of eco or clean technologies that are in vogue, to the core beliefs that drive actions. While a few visionary companies have been founded on the principles of sustainability, most businesses will require radical change. In the coming decades, business models and mindsets must be fundamentally transformed to sustain companies’ value to their customers, shareholders, and other stakeholders.

More and more organizations are turning to sustainability as a source of competitive advantage. Yet many companies are trapped and frustrated by their limited understanding of this challenge; many see it only as a set of technical problems to solve or a clever marketing campaign to organize. Perhaps the greatest danger is that these superficial approaches give companies a false sense of progress, which in the long run will very likely lead to their demise.”

One of the companies on this journey that was profiled in this article is Interface, Inc.

“The U.S.-based global carpet manufacturer Interface, Inc. offers a valuable case study of a company that has embraced and achieved transformational change toward sustainability. Interface reports being only about 60 percent of the way toward achieving its Mission Zero 2020 goals, but the company has come far in its 15-year journey to sustainability. It has reduced net greenhouse gas emissions by 71 percent, water intensity by 74 percent, landfill waste by 67 percent, and total energy intensity by 44 percent. It has diverted 175 million pounds of old carpet from landfills, invented new carpet recycling technology, and sold 83 square kilometers of third-party certified, climate-neutral carpet. In the process, Interface has generated substantial business value in its brand and reputation, cost savings of $405 million, attraction and alignment of talent, and industry-leading product innovation.”

The cultural change model they used is summarized in the graphic below and described in the article.

Other businesses profiled are Nike, and Wal-Mart.

The cultural change model is similar to the one I have used to increase innovation in organizations. This model is specifically applied to sustainability.

I speculated in an earlier post that ecology might be the single issue that can drive substantive change. Perhaps we have almost arrived there.

“Business and society are in a period of crisis as well as potential. Doing the same things a little differently, better, or faster will not bring about the transformational changes needed to address today’s challenges or grasp new opportunities. The Industrial Age can be supplanted by a new age of evolving human wisdom and emergent innovations, but only if businesses are willing to challenge existing paradigms and proactively discover new answers through collective inspiration.

Business and industry—the most dominant institutions on the planet in both size and influence—can bring about organizational awakening that can catalyze more sweeping societal change. If business models are grounded in the values of sustainability, the people who work in those firms will also likely accept and adopt the behaviors associated with sustainability as the “way things are and should be.” This offers business and industry a unique opportunity to accelerate the tipping point needed to correct society’s current trajectory. To achieve this shift, companies must explore new worldviews and discard the old flawed views by encouraging personal reflection and new dialogue about the purpose and responsibility of business.”

Changing Business Cultures from Within, Ray Anderson, Mona Amodeo and Jim Hartzfeld, 2010 State of the World, Transform Cultures: From Consumerism to Sustainability, The Worldwatch Institute

For additional information, go to the Blog Transforming Cultures.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Innovation Posters

Some poster and t-shirt art by Scott Byers from our e-zine, The Innovation Road Map Magazine in 2004.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Creants (Creative Ants) was cartoon created by Scott Byers for the Innovation Roadmap Magazine in 2006, an online magazine, that was a project of Scott and me. As it turns out, the idea of creative ants, social creatures with properties of emergence, was prescient. We;re looking for that now in humans.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Political Divisions of the U.S. House of Representatives

I became curious about the history of the political division of the U.S. House after some of the media discussion about what a historic change had occurred in the last election, and how unstable elections had been recently. As it turns out, neither assertion is true.

The chart below shows the election results from 1867 through 2010. These data were obtained from the web site of the Clerk of the House.

I’ve included on the chart the approximate times of depressions in the U.S. obtained from Wikipedia . I’ve shown the recent major “recession” in gray rather than black because it officially hasn’t been labeled a depression. I’ve also shown the major wars and a sampling of presidents to help orient the viewer. The sizes and location of the graphics on the time line are only approximate.

As you can see, the last 50 years is not nearly as unstable as the first 80 years. And, the recent swing from democrats to republicans in the House is not an extraordinary change at all. Eight other times in this history the change has been larger, and fifteen times it’s been within five percent of this year’s change.

The pattern of these changes indicated to me that it might be representative of a complex system at work. Analysis of the change pattern resulted in the development of a power curve. A power curve is one indication that the system might be a system exhibiting self organized criticality, like earthquakes and markets. The results of that analysis is show in the graph below. This analysis indicates that the probability of occurrence is inversely proportional to the magnitude of the change. However, the correlation coefficient is not as high as in other examples I have worked with.

The calculated probability of a change being greater that the most recent change is 21%.

This analysis is not conclusive evidence that the election system for members of the U.S. House of Representatives is a self organizing critical state system, but it does hint that this might be true.

U.S. Wars

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Understanding Complexity & Resiliency In a Global Environment

John Marke, 2009

This is a very good article and I recommend that everyone read it. He does a good (although incomplete job of describing complexity), but an excellent job of explaining what it means to foreign policy and terrorism.

Here’s Marke’s introduction to the article:

“Chess was the perfect metaphor during the Cold War partly because, long before the Russian Revolution, it has been the opium of the intelligentsia. For Lenin, Trotsky, Gorky and the exiled Bolshevik elite, it was an abiding passion. Once in power, Lenin resolved to make it the classless pastime of the proletariat. It was a purely intellectual recreation, at once science and art, in which chance played no part.

Soviet supremacy in chess would demonstrate the superiority of communism over capitalism. But a darker motive also appealed to Stalin: chess is above all a war game. Ballet and gymnastics played a big role in the image of Soviet culture, but the Cold war made chess unique: only it could be a proxy for the nuclear war that could not be fought without reciprocal annihilation.

And then the unimaginable happened. Time moved on and the Berlin Wall came crashing down. Initial images of celebrating East Germans toasting their new freedom with Coca-Cola and Pepsi cans in hand made the moment even more ideologically sound. The cold war was over and we could now focus on more mundane conflicts waged over soft drinks.

And then the unimaginable happened. Time moved on and the Twin Towers came crashing down. Now without a concrete antagonist America entered a new phase fighting an ambiguous enemy—terror.

If we want to capture our current situation we could liken the U.S. as a decision maker in a complex game of chess. In this game the chess player has many more than then normal number of pieces, several dozen say. Furthermore, these chessmen are linked to each other by rubber bands, so that the player cannot move just one figure alone. Also his men and his opponent‘s men can move on their own and in accordance with rules the player does not fully understand or about which he has mistaken assumptions. And to top things off, some of his own and his opponent‘s men are surrounded by a fog that obscures their identity. Unlike Soviet Russia, the opponent, whether it is Al-Qaeda, Mother Nature, pandemics, or tainted supply lines do not, like a game of chess, simply wait for the player to make moves. They move on their own, whether the player takes that movement into account or not. Reality is not passive but—to some degree – active.

Models, assumptions and paradigms are changing. Phillip Bobbitt and The Princeton Project on National Security have written the obituary for the nation-state, that it is no longer adequate for dealing with transnational risks of terrorism, pandemic, and financial meltdowns and needs to be re-constituted. But it‘s not only about institutions and their constitutions; it‘s about how we think.

Thomas Kuhn wrote that a revolution in how we do science is preceded by a period of crises during which it becomes apparent that, under the growing number of failures, the existing paradigm can no longer be maintained. At that point the scientific community shifts its allegiance to a new paradigm (a new way of thinking about and doing science). These shifts are not limited to the scientific community, they happen in all communities – political, social, and economic – when the prevailing paradigm fails to perform. Look no further than the meltdown of the global economy to see an epic paradigmatic failure. Our traditional risk management assumptions and methodologies failed miserably, both at the enterprise and capital markets levels. Things were just too complex, connected and inter-related—crises proceeds paradigmatic shift.

The thesis here is simple: fight complexity with the science of complexity and complex systems theory. The first step is understanding how we got this way, i.e. what‘s changed and why. The second step is understanding complexity, i.e. what is it, and how does it change things? Then the practical will flow through: Can we use hackers to beat cyber attacks? How can we use network theory to preserve the integrity of global trade and survivability of critical infrastructures? How can we use self -organized criticality to build resilience? How do we re-write the book on risk management so it is effective? We will raise and suggest answers to such questions in this paper.”

He lists the following hallmarks of the 21st century:

  • “Unconstrained by geo-political borders or technology
  • Indeterminate (complexity renders predictability impossible)
  • Emergent (new and not well understood properties emerge): Non-linear effects and power laws, Self-organized criticality, Produce large events i.e. lat tailed threats and black swans, Networks
  • Existential (system may be pushed into phase transition)
  • Non-equilibrium (increasingly unstable and dynamical across political, social/demographic, technological and economic arenas)”

Marke touches on the concept of the power of networks in this intriguing story:

“Consider the following: ―The Cloudmakers & ―The Beast

As part of the publicity for a Steven Spielberg's 2001 film Artificial Intelligence: A.I., Microsoft teamed up with DreamWorks to introduce a complex, on-line game called ―The Beast. This is not a game in the sense that most of us would easily recognize. No, it evolved from an obscure clue embedded in a movie trailer of A.I…here‘s what happened as reported by Jane McGonagall, in her paper, This Is Not a Game': Immersive Aesthetics and Collective Play:

The Cloudmakers group was founded on April 11, 2001 by a 24-year-old Cabel Sasser, one of thousands of movie fans who had started to notice a series of digitally distributed clues and that seemed to be some kind of game, but one without clear rules, objectives or rewards. 48 hours after Sasser launched the Cloudmakers, there were 153 new members in the group investigating these mysterious sites. When the game ended on July 24, 2001, the Cloudmakers group had grown to 7480 members who had scribed a total of 42,209 messages. ―The Beast the name producers (Microsoft and DreamWorks) gave to the game, estimated that more than one million people from around the world played the game in online groups.

This was not like ―Deal or No Deal. This was pretty sophisticated stuff. Players were charged with cracking complicated and time-consuming puzzles that variously required programming, translating and hacking skills, obscure knowledge of literature, history and the arts, and brute computing force. The diverse skill and knowledge base required to solve the game's problems, as well as the magnitude of its unwieldy plot, made cooperative groups like the Cloudmakers absolutely necessary.

According to Microsoft, ―What we quickly learned was that the Cloudmakers were a hell of a lot smarter than we are, and that really kept us on our toes…

Here, I'll show you this. [He shows a slide entitled 'Beast Beat ', a puzzle schedule.] Now, there's a color key here for puzzles: hard, easy, not so hard, etc. [Pointing to different colors] These were the puzzles that would take a day, these were puzzles that would take a week, and these puzzles they'd probably never figure out until we broke down and gave them the answers. So we built a three month schedule around this. And finally we released. [Pause] The Cloudmakers solved all of these puzzles on the first day.

On the day of the Sept. 11th attacks, The Cloudmakers gathered on line and, like most Americans were shocked and angered. They wanted to do something.

"We can solve the puzzle of who the terrorists are," one member wrote. Another agreed: "We have the means, resources, and experience to put a picture together from a vast wealth of knowledge and personal intuition." "Let's become a resource. Utilize your computer & analytical talents to generate leads. ―Solving problems is what we do.

What happened? They walked away, lost their confidence, lost their feeling of empowerment. The reality of 9 -11 was that ―this is not a game. And they collectively acknowledged they were getting in over their heads. Maybe yes…maybe no…

What would you do with 7,000 of some of the brightest most diverse, technological savvy minds in the Nation – at your disposal, willing to work around the clock, at no cost, and mobilized to focus on your crisis?”

He summarizes the changing environment as follows:

“The environment is more complex now. This has implications for the assumptions and models that have worked so well for us in the past:

  • National to Transnational: Geo-political borders are irrelevant. We need to learn to work across silos, across borders, across jurisdictions.
  • Tactical to Strategic: Global, 24x7 communications can magnify what would normally be a tactical incident into a full blown global crisis.
  • Linear to Non-Linear: Consequences is disproportional to threat, and may follow a power law rather than a straight line.
  • Epidemic to pandemic: Infectious disease is unconstrained and global
  • Conventional to WMD: Non-state actors, without moderating influence of super powers have the potential to launch WMDs.
  • Hierarchies to Network: We need more than a cursory understanding of how networks work. Why are some fragile? Why can some withstand attacks? How can we increase network resilience?
  • Predictable to Indeterminate: Complexity kills predictability; it wipes it slick and then stomps on it for good measure. This calls into question the models, methodologies and epistemology about ―how the world works.
  • Equilibrium to Instability: Complex systems exist in a realm far from equilibrium.
  • Independent to Inter-dependent: More vulnerable, more consequential
  • Transparent to Opaque: Changes scope of crises/response
  • Near Real Time to Real Time: Reduces options, increases vulnerability, less time to think in a crisis, and adaptation and resilience strategies dominate.
  • Nation-State to Non-Nation State Actor: Changes portfolio of responses, retaliation in kind is no longer relevant if we do not know the perpetrator

These developments herald in a new age of uncertainty and complexity that require a paradigmatic shift from industrial to information age epistemology, from what was merely complicated to the complex.”

He ends the article with, “This paper was intended as a ‘call to arms’ about the possibilities for harnessing complexity as well as the costs for ignoring.” That is using complex systems to understand complex systems. “If complexity defines the problem space then resiliency defines the solution space.” He argues for resiliency and how to build adaptive strategies to solve today’s complex problems.

Understanding Complexity & Resiliency In a Global Environment
John Marke, 2009

A Brief Introduction to: Information Theory, Excess Entropy and Computational Mechanics

David Feldman, April 1998

This article contains more information than I was interested in as my current interest is in complexity. However, his axiomatic definition of information entropy was interesting and useful to complexity. He list three axioms:

1. Entropy reaches a maximum when the distribution is uniform.
2. Entropy is a continuous function of the probability function.
3. Entropy is the same for every set of probabilities in the probability function

These are my words not his. It’s my interpretation of his mathematical relationships.

The first axiom states that if the probability of any state for a system is the same as any other state then entropy of the system is at its maximum. The second axiom states that any arbitrary small change in the system should lead to a small change in the entropy. And, the third axiom states that any sample from the system should return the same entropy as any other sample. This describes an unstructured complex system.

For a structured complex system applying these axioms yields some interesting insights. A complex system never has a uniform distribution of probabilities, so the entropy of a complex system is never maximized. A structured complex system is often partially or totally nonlinear, and sensitive to initial conditions. Cause and effect are not necessarily relatable. A small change in the system can have a large impact of the system’s entropy. A structured complex system is sensitive to both space and time history. So, almost by definition, a sample cannot be representative of the system’s entropy.

This last point has been concerning me for some time with respect to market research, marketing research and polling. Most of the systems we seek to gain sight about are by definition now structured complex systems. As a result, sampling will yield unreliable results.

A Brief Introduction to: Information Theory, Excess Entropy and Computational Mechanics
David Feldman, April 1998

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bacteria "R" Us

"A few scientists noticed in the late 1960s that the marine bacteria Vibrio fischeri appeared to coordinate among themselves the production of chemicals that produced bioluminescence, waiting until a certain number of them were in the neighborhood before firing up their light-making machinery. This behavior was eventually dubbed “quorum sensing.” It was one of the first in what has turned out to be a long list of ways in which bacteria talk to each other and to other organisms.

Some populations of V. fischeri put this skill to a remarkable use: They live in the light-sensing organs of the bobtail squid. This squid, a charming nocturnal denizen of shallow Hawaiian waters, relies on V. fischeri to calculate the light shining from above and emit exactly the same amount of light downward, masking the squid from being seen by predators swimming beneath them.

For their lighting services, V. fischeri get a protected environment rich in essential nutrients. Each dawn, the squid evict all their V. fischeri to prevent overpopulation. During the day, the bacteria recolonize the light-sensing organ and detect a fresh quorum, once again ready to camouflage the squid by night.

This tale of bobtail squid would be just another mildly jaw-dropping story in a natural world full of marvels if it weren’t a portal into an unsuspected realm that has profound consequences for human beings. Regardless of the scale at which we explore the biosphere — whether we delve into the global ocean or the internal seas of individual organisms — bacteria are now known to be larger players than humans ever imagined."

Another example of emergence. But, read the article. You'll be amazed at how much our bodies depend on bacteria.

Bacteria "R" Us, Valerie Brown, Oct. 18, 2010, Miller- McCune:

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Distribution Trap: Keeping Your Innovations from Becoming Commodities

The American Marketing Association Foundation (AMAF) announces The Distribution Trap: Keeping Your Innovations from Becoming Commodities (Praeger) as the recipient of the 2010 Berry-AMA Book Prize for the best book in marketing.

The Distribution Trap, by Andrew R. Thomas, Ph.D. and Timothy J. Wilkinson, Ph.D. explains that it is time for U.S. companies to wake up to the destructive mass-marketing theories that have cut their profits, diminished their reputations, and sent American jobs overseas. Current marketing and distribution notions, the authors contend, have wrongly convinced thousands of U.S. innovators that the sale and distribution of their products and services is better left in the hands of outside forces. By catering to the mass market, innovators are allowing mega-distributors to dilute the value of their products and services, imposing costs and changes in strategic direction and operational control. The first section of the book explains the distribution trap, detailing how it hurts companies by forcing them to reduce costs, often by chasing cheap labor overseas. The second section details how to avoid the trap, it's a lesson U.S. companies ignore at their own peril.

The annual Berry-AMA Book Prize recognizes books whose innovative ideas have had significant impact on marketing and related fields. The prize is one of the AMAF’s programs designed to recognize marketing excellence and is named in honor of Leonard L. Berry, a distinguished professor of marketing at Texas A&M University, and his wife Nancy F. Berry. Exceptional marketing books that have set the standard for excellence and that were published within the previous three years (2007, 2008 or 2009) were eligible for consideration to receive the 2010 Berry-AMA Book Prize.

For additional information about the Berry-AMA Book Prize winner, please visit:
2010 Berry-AMA Book Prize.

My exodus from Ning complete

I've finally finished with Ning. I was a big supporter and advocate for Ning. I created 7 Ning sites for nonprofit activities at no cost to them and one site for a client company. They are now all gone. The largest one was transformed into this blog. Four of them were just canceled. Three of the nonprofit sites have been resurrected with Grouply. The whole process has taken about five months, and a lot of my time, none of which I was paid for, and $180 from my pocket.

If other web 2.0 software follows this path, the web 2.0 movement will suffer greatly.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Paolo Gaudiano Brings Science to Business Complexity

Paolo Gaudiano, President of Icosystem, explains his role: “Applying scientific principles to real-world problems. Solving complex problems through a variety of scientific approaches, including neural networks, swarm intelligence, agent-based modeling, and evolutionary computing.” In this video, Eric Lundquist, Vice President of Strategic Content for Ziff Davis Enterprise, sits down with Gaudiano at Suffolk University’s Biz Con 2010 conference on business complexity.

Watch Video

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Arcadia: A Play on Complexity

Arcadia is a play by Tom Stoppard that weaves time, social mores, mathematics and science. It can be interpreted on many levels. Of interest to me is that in many ways, this play is about complexity, and the play is complex (or at least complicated).

Lets start with the title. Arcadia refers to a vision of pastoralism and harmony with nature. The term is derived from the Greek province of the same name which dates to antiquity; the province's mountainous topography and sparse population of pastoralists later caused the word Arcadia to develop into a poetic byword for an idyllic vision of unspoiled wilderness. Arcadia is associated with bountiful natural splendor, harmony, and is often inhabited by shepherds. The concept also figures in Renaissance mythology. Commonly thought of as being in line with Utopian ideals, Arcadia differs from that tradition in that it is more often specifically regarded as unattainable. Furthermore, it is seen as a lost, Edenic form of life, contrasting to the progressive nature of Utopian desires.

The inhabitants were often regarded as having continued to live after the manner of the Golden Age, without the pride and avarice that corrupted other regions. It is also sometimes referred to in English poetry as Arcady. The inhabitants of this region bear an obvious connection to the figure of the Noble savage, both being regarded as living close to nature, uncorrupted by civilization, and virtuous. (From Wikipedia)

The Latin phrase “Et in Arcadia ego”appears on the tomb in a 1647 painting by Nicolus Poussin. It is meant as a cautionary of the impermanence of life: even in Arcadia you will die.

Arcadia has another meaning that is connected to complexity. Arcadia is named after Arcas. In Greek mythology, Arcas was the son of Zeus and Callisto. Callisto was a nymph of the goddess Artemis. Zeus, being a flirtatious god, wanted Callisto for a lover. As she would not be with anyone but Artemis, Zeus cunningly disguised himself as Artemis and seduced Callisto. The child resulting from their union was called Arcas.

Hera (Zeus' wife), became jealous, and in anger, transformed Callisto into a bear. She would have done the same or worse to her son, had Zeus not hidden Arcas in an area of Greece that would come to be called Arcadia, in his honor. There Arcas safely lived until one day, during one of the court feasts held by King Lycaon, Arcas was placed upon the burning altar as a sacrifice to the gods. He then said to Zeus "If you think that you are so clever, make your son whole and unharmed." At this Zeus became enraged. He made Arcas whole and then directed his anger toward Lycaon, turning him into the first werewolf. (Some of the myths have Arcas cut into pieces and served to Zeus.) (See Arcas, Greek Myth Index, and Callisto.)

The significance of this double meaning of the title will become meaningful as I describe the play.

Quoting from SFF Net, “Arcadia is a play that stands up to numerous readings and viewings. The synopsis below barely scratches the surface of its complexity and depth. It also gives away a couple of major plot points best experienced first-hand. Read on at your peril.

The action of Arcadia takes place in single space, a room on the garden front of a very large country house in Derbyshire, but in two times, the present and the early years of the nineteenth century. It opens as Thomasina Coverly, a precocious thirteen-year-old math student, receives a lesson from her tutor, twenty-two-year-old Septimus Hodge. The two are discussing Fermat's theorem, Newton and other matters of mathematics and physics when they are interrupted by Ezra Chater, a third-rate poet. Chater accuses Hodge of having been spied in a "carnal embrace" with Mrs. Chater, a charge Hodge makes little effort to deny. Meanwhile, Thomasina's mother, Lady Croom, is wrangling with her landscape architect, Richard Noakes, who wants to clutter the immaculately kept grounds with a gloomy hermitage and other gothic paraphernalia.

The second scene moves to the twentieth century. Coverly descendants still reside at the estate: young Chloe, mathematician Valentine and mute, mysterious Gus. They are also hosts to best-selling author Hannah Jarvis, there to research a history of the estate's gardens, and to literary scholar Bernard Nightingale, who intends to prove that Lord Byron, the great Romantic poet, visited Sidley Park and killed Ezra Chater in a duel.

The next scene, however, demonstrates that, even though Byron did visit Sidley Park in 1809, it was Hodge whom the cuckolded Chater challenged to a duel.”

The structure of the play is based on the interplay of two time periods in the same room combined with the social mores of each time period. The back and forth nature of the play increases in tempo until the close of the play when both sets of characters are in the same scene.

Thomasina is indeed perceptive, creative and bold. Picking up the dialog in Scene 3:

THOMASINA: You are churlish with me because mama is paying attention to your friend. Well, let them elope, they cannot turn back the advancement of knowledge. I think it is an excellent discovery. Each week I plot your equations dot for dot, xs against ys in all manner of algebraical relation, and every week they draw themselves as commonplace geometry, as if the world of forms were nothing but arcs and angles. God's truth, Septimus, if there is an equation for a curve like a bell, there must be an equation for one like a bluebell, and if a bluebell, why not a rose? Do we believe nature is written in numbers?


THOMASINA: Then why do your equations only describe the shapes of manufacture?

SEPTIMUS: I do not know.

THOMASINA: Armed thus, God could only make a cabinet.

SEPTIMUS: He has mastery of equations which lead into infinities where we cannot follow.

THOMASINA: What a faint-heart! We must work outward from the middle of the maze. We will start with something simple. (She picks up the apple leaf.) I will plot this leaf and deduce its equation. You will be famous for being my tutor when Lord Byron is dead and forgotten.

With this dialog, the concept of complexity and fractals is introduced.

The conversation quickly turns to another theme:

SEPTIMUS: Back to Cleopatra.

THOMASINA: Is it Cleopatra? I hate Cleopatra!

SEPTIMUS: You hate her? Why?

THOMASINA: Everything is turned to love with her. New love, absent love, lost love – I never knew a heroine that makes such noodles of our sex. It needs only a Roman general to drop anchor outside the window and away goes the empire like a christening mug in a pawn shop. If Queen Elizabeth had been a Ptolemy history would have been quite different – we would be admiring the pyramids of Rome and the great Sphinx of Verona.

SEPTIMUS; God save us.

THOMASINA: But instead, the Egyptian noodle made carnal embrace with the enemy who burned the great library of Alexandria without so much as a fine for all that is overdue. Oh, Septimus! - can you bear it? All the lost plays of the Athenians! Two hundred at least by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides – thousands of poems – Aristotle's own library brought to Egypt by the noodle's ancestors! Can we sleep for grief?

SEPTIMUS: By counting our stock. Seven plays Aeschylus, seven Sophocles, nineteen from Euripides, my lady! You should no more grieve for the rest of them for a buckle lost from your first shoe, or your lesson book which will be lost when you are old. We shed as we pick up, like travelers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language. Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more. Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again. You do not suppose my lady, that if all of Archimedes had been hidden in the great library of Alexandria, we would still be at loss for a corkscrew? I have no doubt that the improved steam-driven heat-engine which puts Mr. Noaks into an ecstasy that he and it and the modern age should all coincide, was well established on papyrus.

This theme has to do with evolution. For Teilhard de Chardin, the noosphere emerges through and is constituted by the interaction of human minds. The noosphere has grown in step with the organization of the human mass in relation to itself as it populates the earth. As mankind organizes itself in more complex social networks, the higher the noosphere will grow in awareness. This is an extension of Teilhard's Law of Complexity/Consciousness, the law describing the nature of evolution in the universe. (See Wikipedia)

It also describes human history. Complexification is the driving force of history, and individuals only retard or advance that natural inevitable change.

In scene 4, in modern time, Hannah and Valentine are talking. In the course of research into the history of Sidley Park, they have discovered Thomasina's notes and mathematics lesson book. Hannah reads from the book:

HANNAH: I, Thomasina Coverly, have found a truly wonderful method whereby all the forms of nature must give up their numerical secrets and draw themselves through number alone. The margin being too mean for my purpose, the reader must look elsewhere for the New Geometry of Irregular Forms discovered by Thomasina Coverly.

In other words, fractals.

Valentine explains what he thinks Thomasina is writing about, and Hannah asks:

HANNAH: Is it difficult?

VALENTINE: The maths isn't difficult. It's what you did at school. You have some x-and-y equation. Any value for x gives you a value for y. So you put a dot where it's right for both x and y. Then you take the next value for x which gives you another value for y, and when you've done that a few times you join up the dots and that's your graph of whatever the equation is.

HANNAH: And is that what she's doing?

VALENTINE: No. Not exactly. Not at all. What she's doing is, every time she works out a value for y, she's using that as her next value for x. And so on. Like a feedback. She's feeding the solution back into the equation, and then solving it again. Iteration, you see.

HANNAH: And that's surprising, is it?

VALENTINE: Well, it is a bit. It's the technique I'm using on my grouse numbers, and it hasn't been around for much longer than, well, call it twenty years.

Valentine describes the work he is doing trying to understand population trends of grouse in the Park. He has data of all the grouse shot since 1870, and is trying to understand the mathematical relationship. He is attempting to formulate the logistic equation for population growth. In discrete form, this equation is known as the logistic map, a very simple equation that exhibits chaotic properties in well defined regions.

Valentine comments, “It's about the behavior of numbers. This thing works for any phenomenon which eats its own numbers – measles epidemics, rainfall averages, cotton prices, it's a natural phenomenon in itself. Spooky.”

“When your Thomasina was doing maths it had been the same maths for a couple of thousand years. Classical. And for a century after Thomasina. Then maths left the real world behind, just like modern art, really. Nature was classical, maths was suddenly Picassos. But now nature is having the last laugh. The freaky stuff is turning out to be the mathematics of the natural world.”
After being pressed by Hannah, Valentine continues, “If you knew the algorithm and fed it back say ten thousand times, each time there'd be a dot somewhere on the screen. You'd never know where to expect the next dot. But gradually you'd start to see this shape, because every dot will be inside the shape of this leaf. It wouldn't be the leaf, it would be a mathematical object. But, yes. The unpredictable and the predetermined unfold together to make everything the way it is. It's how nature creates itself, on every scale, the snowflake and the snowstorm.”

Then Valentine makes the following comment about the significance of complexity, “It makes me so happy. To be at the beginning again, knowing almost nothing. People were talking about the end of physics. Relativity and quantum looked as if they were going to clean out the whole problem between them. A theory of everything. But they only explained the very big and the very small. The universe, the elementary particles. The ordinary-sized stuff which is our lives, the things people write poetry about - clouds - daffodils - waterfalls - and what happens in a cup of coffee when the cream goes in - these things are full of mystery, as mysterious to us as the heavens were to the Greeks. We're better at predicting events at the edge of the galaxy or inside the nucleus of an atom than whether it'll rain on auntie's garden party three Sundays from now. Because the problem turns out to be different. We can't even predict the next drip from a dripping tap when it gets irregular. Each drip sets up the conditions for the next, the smallest variation blows prediction apart, and the weather is unpredictable the same way, will always be unpredictable. When you push the numbers through the computer you can see it on the screen. The future is disorder. A door like this has cracked open five or six times since we got up on our hind legs. It's the best possible time to be alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong.”

Parenthetically, this is the excitement I feel as a physicist (education only) about complexity science.

One of the other themes that run through this play (there are many) is thermodynamics and entropy.

Hannah and Valentine are talking in modern time:

VALENTINE: Listen - you know your tea's getting cold.

HANNAH: I like it cold.

VALENTINE: (Ignoring that) I'm telling you something. Your tea gets cold by itself, it doesn't get hot by itself. Do you think that's odd?


VALENTINE: Well, it is odd. Heat goes to cold. It's a one-way street. Your tea will end up at room temperature. What's happening to your tea is happening to everything everywhere. The sun and the stars. It'll take a while but we're all going to end up at room temperature. When your hermit set up shop nobody understood this. But let's say you're right, in 18-whatever nobody knew more about heat than this scribbling nutter living in a hovel in Derbyshire.

Towards the end of the play when the four characters are on stage at the same time:

SEPTIMUS: So, we are all doomed!

THOMASINA: (Cheerfully) Yes.

VALENTINE: Like a steam engine, you see. She didn't have the maths, not remotely. She saw what things meant, way ahead, like seeing a picture.

SEPTIMUS: This is not science. This is story-telling.

THOMASINA: Is it a waltz now?


VALENTINE: Like a film.

HANNAH: What did she see?

VALENTINE: That you can't run the film backwards. Heat was the first thing which didn't work that way. Not like Newton. A film of a pendulum, or a ball falling through the air - backwards, it looks the same.

HANNAH: The ball would be going the wrong way.

VALENTINE: You'd have to know that. But with heat - friction - a ball breaking a window


VALENTINE: It won't work backwards.

HANNAH: Who thought it did?

VALENTINE: She saw why. You can put back the bits of glass but you can't collect up the heat of the smash. It's gone.

SEPTIMUS: So the Improved Newtonian Universe must cease and grow cold. Dear me.

VALENTINE: The heat goes into the mix.
(He gestures to indicate the air in the room, in the universe.)

THOMASINA: Yes, we must hurry if we are going to dance.

VALENTINE: And everything is mixing the same way, all the time, irreversibly ...

SEPTIMUS: Oh, we have time, I think.

VALENTINE: ... till there's no time left. That's what time means.

SEPTIMUS: When we have found all the mysteries and lost all the meaning, we will be alone, on an empty shore.

THOMASINA: Then we will dance. Is this a waltz?

SEPTIMUS: It will serve.

I believe what Stoppard is trying to indicate here is the possible linkage between complexity and entropy. A subject I will write about later.

A complex system cannot be taken apart and put back together remaining the same as it was before. You can do that with a complicated system, even though you will lose energy in the process.

And, that brings back to the title - Arcadia - the place where in spite of its perfection, everyone still dies. And, Arcas who is burned up or cut into pieces as a test for Zeus, to see if he can reverse the process and unlike Humpty Dumpty, put Arcas back together again.

Arcadia, Tom Stoppard, Faber and Faber, 1993
Arcadia (Dramatized), Tom Stoppard, L. A. Theatre Works, 2010 (CD)

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Significance of Complexity

“It makes me so happy. To be at the beginning again, knowing almost nothing. People were talking about the end of physics. Relativity and quantum looked as if they were going to clean out the whole problem between them. A theory of everything. But they only explained the very big and the very small. The universe, the elementary particles. The ordinary-sized stuff which is our lives, the things people write poetry about - clouds - daffodils - waterfalls - and what happens in a cup of coffee when the cream goes in - these things are full of mystery, as mysterious to us as the heavens were to the Greeks. We're better at predicting events at the edge of the galaxy or inside the nucleus of an atom than whether it'll rain on auntie's garden party three Sundays from now. Because the problem turns out to be different. We can't even predict the next drip from a dripping tap when it gets irregular. Each drip sets up the conditions for the next, the smallest variation blows prediction apart, and the weather is unpredictable the same way, will always be unpredictable. When you push the numbers through the computer you can see it on the screen. The future is disorder. A door like this has cracked open five or six times since we got up on our hind legs. It's the best possible time to be alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong.”

Valentine Coverly from Arcadia by Tom Stoppard

Critical State Complexity

"we’ve connected things so tightly to each other that small failures in one place vibrate throughout the entire system. If America’s dumb decision to use a fraction of its corn crop for ethanol can help set off food riots in thirty-seven countries, or if a series of shortsighted bets on Nevada mortgages can double unemployment in China, we’ve let our systems intertwine too much. If our driving habits can move the monsoon off the Asian subcontinent or melt the Arctic..."

Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
by Bill McKibben

Friday, September 24, 2010

An Odd Kind Of Sympathy (Synchronization)

"The phrase odd sympathy (the actual phrase used was odd kind of sympathy) was used by Dutch mathematician and physicist Christiaan Huygens (1629–95) in a letter to the Royal Society of London pertaining to the tendency of two pendulums to synchronize, or asynchronize, when mounted together on the same beam. Huygens, the inventor of the pendulum clock, noticed the effect while lying in bed. Two pendulums, mounted together, will always end up swinging in exactly opposite directions, regardless of their respective individual motion. This was one of the first observations of the phenomenon of coupled harmonic oscillators, which have many applications in physics.

Huygens originally believed the synchronization was due to air currents shared between the two pendulums, but he dismissed the hypothesis himself after several tests. Huygens would later attribute sympathetic motion of pendulums to imperceptible movement in the beam from which both pendulums are suspended. This idea was later validated by researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology who tested Huygens' idea.

Using instruments capable of registering movement too small to have been measured in Huygens' time, the Georgia Tech researchers chronicled the nature of the forces at work on the supporting beam. They found that if the pendulums are moving in the same direction, together they tend to move the beam the opposite direction, giving rise to frictional forces that resist motion in the same direction. If however, the pendulums are moving in opposite directions, these forces cancel each other out, causing the beam to remain motionless. Thus, motion, in this example, tends to be perfectly asynchronous

Huygens observed anti-phase synchronization of pendulum clocks. Bennett and co-workers from the Georgia Institute of Technology reported also anti-phase synchronization of pendulum clocks in 2002. However, in-phase synchronization of pendulum clocks has also been observed. This was discussed by a book written by I.I. Blekhman. This was also mentioned in the book by Pikovsky and co-workers. A detailed analysis was provided by Fradkov and Andrievsky from Russia in 2007 regarding the conditions for in-phase or anti-phase synchronization of a 2-pendulum system."

Synchronization metronomes pendulum>

"Synchronisation of 5 coupled metronomes done in Lancaster University, Physics Dep, Nonlinear dynamics & medical physics group.Emails related to this video can be sent to:a.bahraminasabNOSPAM at gmail dot com.Some explanation by 'shoonya' which I think is pretty good:Here you go: metronomes (or "pendula") when on table, oscillate with random phases, since that is how they started & they are "uncoupled" (no energy/information flows from one to other so they do not "know" each other.) When they are all together on the cans, notice that the cans themselves oscillate little, providing coupling/information crossover. which forces "synchronization" in periodic systems (discovered by Huygens in 17th century).A useful book: "Synchronization: A Universal Concept in Nonlinear Sciences " by Arkady Pikovsky, Michael Rosenblum & Jurgen Kurths. A scientific article: personal homepage: to the original video:"

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Electrocardiogram, Complex Systems Science and Fundamental Laws of Biology

Tim Buchman

The heart’s electric currents have been known for one hundred years, but three-quarters of a century later, the ECG is still giving up its secrets. Buchman explains the basic ECG signal and its relationship with the function of the human heart. He then turns to complex systems science to discover hidden structure within the ECG. These lie in frequencies (akin to musical tones); in variability (akin to the change in directions of a walker choosing not-quite-random steps); and in network design (akin to adding/losing elements of a power grid). Finally, he explores the ways in which the ECG might point towards the existence of fundamental laws of biology. Armed with these fundamental laws, we ask how complex systems science might allow us to guide care in the intensive care unit.

The lecture is generously underwritten by Los Alamos National Bank and by Maureen Mestas Abrams, Associate Broker, Prudential Santa Fe Real Estate

View Video

Blogging Out of Balance

An essay in Seed Magazine by Dave Munger reviews several studies that show that in the filed of science blogs, males outnumber females by almost 3 to 1.

Read More

Scientific Commons

ScientificCommons is a project of the University of St. Gallen Institute for Media and Communications Management. The major aim of the project is to develop the world’s largest archive of scientific knowledge with fulltexts freely accessible to the public.

ScientificCommons includes a search engine for publications and author profiles. It also allows the user to turn searches into customized RSS feeds of new publications. ScientificCommons also provides a fulltext caching service for researchers.



Stigmergy – the phenomenon of indirect communication mediated by modifications of the environment – was first conceptualized by zoologist Pierre-Paul Grasse in his ground-breaking work on termite colonies (Grasse 1959). It wasn’t until 1999 that Grasse’s work was brought to a wider audience by Eric Bonabeau et al (1999) in a special issue of Artificial Life. Since then interest in stigmergic systems has blossomed with researchers recognizing the application of Grasse’s insights to stock markets, economies, traffic patterns, supply logistics, computer networks, resource allocation, urban sprawl, and cultural memes. New forms of stigmergy have been exponentially expanded through the affordances of digital technology: Google’s recommendation algorithm, Amazon’s filtering algorithm, wiki, open source software, weblogs, and a whole range of “social media” are now deemed as essentially stigmergic.

Though the concept of stigmergy has typically been associated with ant- or swarm-like “agents” with minimal cognitive ability or with creatures of a somewhat higher cognitive capacity such as fish (schooling patterns) or birds (flocking patterns) or sheep (herding behavior), stigmergy offers a powerful tool to be deployed in the human domain. The editors of this special issue are thus looking for contributions that have human-human (social, organizational, and socio-technical) stigmergy as the main focus.

Proposals are invited from social scientists, social epistemologists, cognitive scientists, economists, group decision theorists, collective intentionality theorists, computational sociologists, network theorists, multi-agent modelers, and indeed researchers from any discipline that has social complexity and coordination as a core topic.

Papers that are theoretical, experimental, or computational in orientation are welcome. Please send proposals of no more than 300 words to lesliemarsh [at] gmail [dot] com with “Stigmergy/Cognitive Systems Research” in the subject line. The deadline for proposals is Nov 1, 2010.

All papers will be subject to double blind review by a least two referees and accepted papers will be published in a special issue of Cognitive Systems Research

Emergent Behavior Applet

This Java applet was created by Curran Kelleher, a student at UMass Lowell and NECSI. It demonstrates the incredibly wide range of collective behaviors that can emerge from relatively simple rules of interaction.

Use the sliders in the pop-up window to vary several key parameters and see what kinds of behaviors and patterns result.

This is a different and very cool applet demonstrating emergence by varying physical parameters.

Emergent Behavior Applet

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

Capitalizing on Complexity

Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study

“This study is the fourth edition of our biennial Global CEO Study series, led by the IBM Institute for Business Value and IBM Strategy & Change. To better understand the challenges and goals of today’s CEOs, we met face-to-face with the largest-known sample of these senior executives. Between September 2009 and January 2010, we interviewed 1,541 CEOs, general managers and senior public sector leaders who represent different sizes of organizations in 60 countries and 33 industries.”

The beginning few paragraphs of the executive summary read, “In our past three global CEO studies, CEOs consistently said that coping with change was their most pressing challenge. In 2010, our conversations identified a new primary challenge: complexity. CEOs told us they operate in a world that is substantially more volatile, uncertain and complex.

Many shared the view that incremental changes are no longer sufficient in a world that is operating in fundamentally different ways. Four primary findings arose from our conversations:
Today’s complexity is only expected to rise, and more than half of CEOs doubt their ability to manage it. Seventy-nine percent of CEOs anticipate even greater complexity ahead. However, one set of organizations — we call them “Standouts” — has turned increased complexity into financial advantage over the past five years.

Creativity is the most important leadership quality, according to CEOs. Standouts practice and encourage experimentation and innovation throughout their organizations. Creative leaders expect to make deeper business model changes to realize their strategies. To succeed, they take more calculated risks, find new ideas, and keep innovating in how they lead and communicate.
The most successful organizations co-create products and services with customers, and integrate customers into core processes. They are adopting new channels to engage and stay in tune with customers. By drawing more insight from the available data, successful CEOs make customer intimacy their number-one priority.

Better performers manage complexity on behalf of their organizations, customers and partners. They do so by simplifying operations and products, and increasing dexterity to change the way they work, access resources and enter markets around the world. Compared to other CEOs, dexterous leaders expect 20 percent more future revenue to come from new sources.”

Now in line with “full disclosure” and “transparency”, I have to tell you that I worked for IBM for 30 years. In the first ten years of my career with IBM I pursued technology invention and development. I thought that IBM would be successful if we were a leader in technology. In the second ten years I pursued innovation in business practices and product development helping to create the first independent business unit of IBM. Essentially we were doing what came to be called process reengineering some years later. Having first found out that technology development was stymied by the formal business practices of IBM, I then found out that changing business practices did no good if the organizational culture remained the same. The changes were only temporary and quickly snapped back to what they were before. So, I spent the last ten years on organizational culture and how you change it. For about the last seven years, I was a “grass roots” agitator for changing the values of the culture to strengthen creativity, innovativeness, leadership (called situational leadership at the time) and professionalism. After retiring from IBM I wrote a book on my methodology titled Innovate!.

I’m sure that you have guessed by now that my message fell on rocky ground with little soil in the 1980s.

Now, 30 years later and IBM is in the consulting business big time and touting, of all things, creativity.

OK, times change, People and organizations change. I get it.

So, I read the report carefully, marking sections and quotes to call out in this analysis I’m now writing. Unfortunately when I finished the report, I hit a brick wall. The report repeatedly used key words like complexity, creativity, leadership and innovation. These are words that I know well as I’ve lived them for 52 years. I also know that they are some of the fuzziest concepts in the business lexicon. Just about everyone has their own definitions of these words and very few of them agree with each other. Furthermore, the report did not define the words making most of the conclusions suspect. For example, when CEOs said that complexity was their biggest challenge, what definition of complexity did each of them use.

Most of the time when the authors mention complexity, they are really talking about complicatedness. If a system is complicated, cause and effect are related. If a system has the characteristic of organized complexity, cause and effect are no longer related. If the system is characterized by disorganized complexity, cause and effect are again related, but statistically.

Simple, complicated and disorganized complex systems are tractable. Organized complex systems are not. Unfortunately, many of the systems that CEOs (and the rest of us as well) have to deal with now are organized complex systems.

I’m guessing, but I think that this latter type of complexity is what the CEOs are apprehending. Unfortunately the solutions being considered and the recommendations made are not useful for this type of complexity, and may even be harmful.

In "The Reality of Complexity", Lewin writes, “We argue that managers, consultants, entrepreneurs, executives, other business professionals indeed, anyone who works can take some comfort in the fact that they are not alone in riding a bucking bronco of change that demands a different understanding of the world. Science, too, is in the midst of an important intellectual shift, a true Kuhnian paradigm shift that parallels what is happening in business, or, more accurately, is the vanguard of that change. Where once the natural world was viewed as linear and mechanistic, where simple cause-and-effect solutions were expected to explain the complex phenomena of nature, scientists now realize that much of their world is nonlinear and organic, characterized by uncertainty and unpredictability. As in science, managers are discovering that their world is not linear but rather predominantly nonlinear, not mechanistic but rather organic and complex. It’s amazing how far we have been able to take the linear model for understanding the world, both in science and in business. But in the new economy, the limitations of the mechanistic model are becoming starkly apparent. A new way of thinking is required.”

The Reality of Complexity
Some Thoughts on Complexity
1, 2, a Few, Many

Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Reality Check

From Weblogg-ed by Will Richardson

"It is the thesis of this book that change—constant, accelerating, ubiquitous—is the most striking characteristic of the world we live in and that our educational system has not yet recognized this fact. We maintain, further, that the abilities and attitudes required to deal adequately with change are those of the highest priority and that it is not beyond our ingenuity to design school environments which can help young people to master concepts necessary to survival in a rapidly changing world. The institution we call “school” is what it is because we made it that way. If it is irrelevant…if it shields children from reality…if it educates for obsolescence…if it does not develop intelligence…if it is based on fear…if it avoids the promotion of significant learnings…if it induces alienation…if it punishes creativity and independence…if, in short, it is not doing what needs to be done, it can be changed; it must be changed."

Neil Postman
Teaching as a Subversive Activity

Forty two years ago. It really, really begs the question…can it?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Reality of Complexity

This is a brief summary of two essays by Roger Lewin, The Reality of Complexity and Leading at the Edge: How Leaders Influence Complex Systems (coauthored with Birute Regine). Both of these essays refer to his two books on complexity, Weaving Complexity and Business: Engaging the Soul at Work, also coauthored with Birute Regine, and Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos.

In The Reality of Complexity, Lewin writes, “We argue that managers, consultants, entrepreneurs, executives, other business professionals indeed, anyone who works can take some comfort in the fact that they are not alone in riding a bucking bronco of change that demands a different understanding of the world. Science, too, is in the midst of an important intellectual shift, a true Kuhnian paradigm shift that parallels what is happening in business, or, more accurately, is the vanguard of that change. Where once the natural world was viewed as linear and mechanistic, where simple cause-and-effect solutions were expected to explain the complex phenomena of nature, scientists now realize that much of their world is nonlinear and organic, characterized by uncertainty and unpredictability. As in science, managers are discovering that their world is not linear but rather predominantly nonlinear, not mechanistic but rather organic and complex. It’s amazing how far we have been able to take the linear model for understanding the world, both in science and in business. But in the new economy, the limitations of the mechanistic model are becoming starkly apparent. A new way of thinking is required.

The realization that much of the world dances to nonlinear tunes has given birth to the new science of complexity, whose midwife was the power of modern computation, which for the first time allows complex processes to be studied. The science is still in its infancy, and is multifaceted, reflecting different avenues of study. The avenue most relevant to understanding organizational dynamics within companies and the web of economic activity among them is the study of complex adaptive systems. Simply defined, complex adaptive systems are composed of a diversity of agents that interact with each other, mutually affect each other, and in so doing generate novel behavior for the system as a whole, such as in evolution, ecosystems, and the human mind. But the pattern of behavior we see in these systems is not constant, because when a system’s environment changes, so does the behavior of its agents, and, as a result, so does the behavior of the system as a whole. In other words, the system is constantly adapting to the conditions around it. Over time, the system evolves through ceaseless adaptation.

Complexity scientists are learning about these dynamics of complex systems principally through computer models, but also through observation of the natural world. “That’s all fine and dandy for scientists and academicians,” one executive commented when we made this point, “but what’s it got to do with me and my problems?” The point is that business organizations are also complex adaptive systems. This means that what complexity scientists are learning about natural systems has the potential to illuminate the fundamental dynamics of business organizations, too. Companies in a fast-changing business environment need to be able to produce constant innovation, need to be constantly adapting, and be in a state of continual evolution, if they are to survive.”

He believes that relationships are the new bottom line. Not just who you are linked to but caring relationships driven by values. He notes, “We can restate this in the language of complexity science as follows: in complex adaptive systems, agents interact, and when they have a mutual effect on one another, something novel emerges. Anything that enhances these interactions will enhance the creativity and adaptability of the system. In human organizations this translates into agents as people, and interactions with mutual effect as being relationships that are grounded in a sense of mutuality: people share a mutual respect, and have a mutual influence and impact on each other. From this emerged genuine care. Care is not a thing but an action to be care-full to care about your work, to care for fellow workers, to care for the organization, to care about the community. We saw that genuine care enhanced the relationships in these companies, with CEOs engendering trust and loyalty in their people, and the people being more willing to contribute to the needs of the company. In the context of complexity science, care, which enhances relationships, in turn enhances companies’ creativity and adaptability.”

This is an extremely novel interpretation. We’ve had management based on science in the past with the result that people became abstracted to be a number and a replaceable cog in a machine. (Remember Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times.) Now, complexity science may provide the justification for oft debated, human centered management.

“We can see, therefore, that management practice guided by complexity science leads us to a very human orientation, and this was a surprise, counterintuitive. Of course, there have been many human-centered approaches in management before, amongst the more notable being political scientist Mary Parker Follett’s work done in the 1920s and 1930s in the United States, in which there has been a recent resurgence of interest. For more than half a century, there has been a constant battle between human-oriented management and scientific or mechanistic management, with the latter prevailing. But it is only now, and for the first time, that there is a science behind this way of thinking that gives a legitimacy to the whole realm of human-centered management. With complexity science, we have human-oriented management practice emerging from science, a novelty.”

In Leading at the Edge, the authors write, “At the cusp of the twenty-first century, we are experiencing unprecedented structural shifts in our economy brought about by the revolutions in computation and communication technologies. Today the world is linked in ways unimaginable just a decade ago. A new kind of economy is emerging–the connected economy--a shift that rivals the onset of the Industrial Revolution in its impact on society and the way commerce is transacted. And with this shift, the business world finds itself in the throes of revolutionary change. Where once companies imagined themselves to be the master’s of their own destiny, in a connected economy companies find themselves as interdependent players in a fluid and vacillating economic web, where their fate, more than ever, is affected by the behavior of other members.

The change is not only real, but it is also accelerating, driven by rapid technological innovation, the globalization of business, and, not the least of it, the arrival of the Internet and the new domain of Internet commerce. Change–the pace of innovation, of forming and reforming alliances among companies, of corporate mergers, emerging markets–all driven by this connected economy, creates an environment of urgency in the workplace and a need to respond, adapt, anticipate that is unprecedented in the world of business as we knew it. Consequently, business leaders are preoccupied with change itself–how to generate it, how to respond to it, how to avoid being overcome by it. But, as Intel’s Andy Grove indicates, change is not exactly a welcome guest in business: "With all the rhetoric about change, the fact is that we managers hate change, especially when it involves us."

During these changing times, leaders and managers are finding many of their background assumptions and time-honored business models inadequate to help them understand what is going on, let alone how to deal with it. Where managers once operated with a Tayloresque mechanistic model of their world, which was predicated on linear thinking, control, and predictability, they now find themselves struggling with something more nonlinear, where limited control and a restricted ability to predict outcomes are the order of the day.

Consequently, many managers and executive professionals are uneasy and eagerly seeking new ways of dealing with change in their organizations, as the current $17 billion-a-year management consulting business would indicate. In the new connected economy, the limitations of the mechanistic model are becoming starkly apparent and a different mode of thinking is needed. In the connected economy of the twenty-first century, leaders cannot afford to try to succeed with management methods that were developed in a different age and for a different type of business environment.”

The authors conducted a study of organizations that exhibited some of the fundamental characteristics of a complexity science informed organization – “organizationally flat, have fewer levels of hierarchy, and promote open and plentiful communication and diversity. Complexity science argues that these properties enhance a system’s capacity for adaptability, thus, in the case of business, giving them a cutting edge in these fast-changing times. The companies we chose for our study therefore shared the properties of being organizationally flat and having rich, open communication. But we had no idea what we would find in the realm of organizational dynamics, of leadership and management style, and people’s work experience.

What we discovered was a style of leadership that unleashed enormous human potential in these organizations. We saw similar patterns among the leaders–CEOs, executive directors, chairmen, senior executives, managers–in how they worked with their business as a complex system. Because these patterns in leadership style emerged in companies of very different sizes and very different economic sectors, we infer that we are seeing something fundamental in how to lead change in organizations so that it is more adaptable and how to cultivate a culture in the workplace that is better able to embrace and create change.”

They found a way of leading change--an organic approach that is informed by complexity principles; and a style of leadership, paradoxical leadership that cultivates conditions for constructive change in organizations.

Later, the authors explain, “These elements of an organic approach for leading change are a different way of doing things in that these leaders didn’t make changes, they cultivated conditions for change to occur. Instead of implementing strategies or plans, they generated ambiguity and uncertainty, encouraged risks, attended to relationships which allowed the organization to rearrange itself. They engaged the whole person and forged connections between people which in turn made their organization more whole and connected.

If organizations are complex systems, leading in an interconnected, dynamic system requires a different way of being a leader. Leading in a dynamic system is more like an improvisational dance with the system rather than a mechanistic imperative of doing things to the system, as if it were an object that could be fixed. This casts the meaning of leadership itself in a different light that dispels certain beliefs and myths about what it means to be a leader in a traditional sense.”

The three myths of leadership that a complexity view dispels are autonomy, control, and omniscience.

The authors write, “What we have done is identify an intellectual framework, a scientific understanding of organizational dynamics that puts these behaviors under one umbrella of complexity, which shows why these behaviors are effective. We can see that these behaviors, such as mutuality and care, are efficacious in the business environment, not because being "nice" to people is a good and human thing to do, which, of course, it is; but because we are positively engaging the agents and the dynamics of the complex adaptive system, and moving the system toward the zone of creative adaptability.”