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

...systems 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.
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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.

2 comments:

Duncan Work said...

This is a great post. Thank you. I watched the Steven Johnson BIF3 video just now and really liked his wrap-up point that what we need are environments that support hunches - "tenth-baked" ideas that take time to incubate, and that also require a lot of external input (from other people) before they turn into something that can turn into a compelling "case".

Woodshole I guess is a classic hunch-incubator for biologists. Blogs and other social media are now taking on some of this role. Whatever the medium, friendly, open, creative minds are a main ingredient.

Morgan Sully said...

This is a great post (and I love the title of your blog - I came here through Amy Borgstrom). On reading your post over at the Ning group, I really liked your thoughts on a theory to tie all this work together:

"I think the theory needs to start with massive increased support self-organizing: for innovators...[and]...structures...that enable us to find and engage with those provoking others, and for processes that enable innovations to be woven together, to scale and make a difference."

A possible equation looks like: reward/encourage social innovators, give them structures to weave networks together, allow those coming afterwards (future generations) the ability to innovate and grow further... I think that's a crucial part - building for generations after us that will (no doubt?) do things *better* than us.

Two projects I think are super cool:
http://www.socialactions.com/social-entrepreneur-api. Connects social entrepreneurs to relevant localities and capital to do their work. I think this allows 'innovations to be woven together'.

There's also the #4change Twitter conversations (that I'm directly involved in) that look at how to make all this little stuff "become the stuff of transformation".