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: http://www.miller-mccune.com/science-environment/bacteria-r-us-23628/

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