Sunday, March 15, 2009

Emergence Part 2

Here is part 2:

Emergence - Part 1

key to understanding self-organizing is the concept of emergence. Here is a nice video (via Lisa Kimball) in two parts.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Can we see self-organizing in our world?

I'm really finding BFI Book Group quite delightful. First, it's a good use of Ning, a free customizable social networking site, as a discussion forum. Might want to check it out to see how it works.

In addition, the quality of the discussion of The Invention of Air (by Steven B Johnson) is great. There's a new thread on Systems Thinking and Change that is fascinating. Saul Kaplan, who organized the Book Group, says level innovation is exactly what it is going to take to tackle the really important issues of our time including health care, education, and climate change.

But to get systems level innovation we need theory. Steven Johnson points out

...what we don't have is a convincing theory about the system that connects all these local innovations, that causes them to self-organize into something so momentous.

I think the theory is there, in the science of self-organizing systems and complexity. But virtually all of that literature describes everything but human social self-organizing systems: ecosystems, immune systems, termite colonies, etc.

Somehow we've created a culture and social system where the self-organizing capacity that termites illustrate so effectively has been damped way down. Our only path back to this birthright is to become highly self-aware of our natural capacity to self-organize.

We have to learn to see the self-organizing that exists in our lives before this broader theory can become social theory. As Steven Johnson points out in his excellent video, self-organizing is local, and we need to practice self-organizing in a way that enables us to build our self-organizing capacities: we need to gain new skills in listening and in working together and learn to reach out to those who are different from us in every way possible. As we do this, I think we will be shocked at the depth of creativity that is unleashed.

But as Johnson queries, how does all this little stuff become the stuff of transformation? I believe the magic of emergence can be assisted through networking structures (whether coffee houses or social media) that enable us to share deeply, and through processes that enable innovations to be woven together, to scale and make a difference.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Whither the Coffee House?

Saul Kaplan has set up an online book club on innovation. The first book we are reading and discussing is Steven Johnson's "The Invention of Air," which describes the coffee house culture of England and the U.S. in the late 1700's. Here are some of my thoughts about these places that were so crucial to innovation in that era.

Think about the coffee house - people flowing in and out with the frequent running into others and the chance to exchange and cross-fertilize one's latest spontaneous thinking, places for twosies to sit down and move the sparks that have been created into action, and groups coalescing around trending topics so larger stuff can emerge.

But the impact of traditional coffee house innovation is limited by class and geography. Little headway was made on issues such as poverty because no poor people ever made it in the door (except as unseen help). Social media is just now providing examples of how the web can overcome some of the coffee house limitations. One of the delights of Twitter is that you can create a coffee house peopled by quite diverse individuals from all over the world (I follow people from many countries and political persuasions) and, because you are overhearing all their comments and conversations, you can often find some opportunity to strike up a conversation and start to build a relationship with people you would never run into in this way in your ordinary life.

The difficulty, though, is reconceptualizing the physical place - a coffee house - as a set of innovation flows. Once you have a great provocative conversation with one or two people on Twitter, how and where do you move it so the energy and innovation continues to flow into action? I've now had a number of instances where the Twitter banter flowed into Skype calls/chats/document exchanges and then into face-to-face meetings or directly into some collaborative arrangement. The next missing piece is more support for small collaborations online. How do we keep track of all the small projects and what we are supposed to do for each?s