Designing Complex Adaptive Systems

Sat, 2005-10-15 21:58.
As we suffuse the world with complex technical systems�”on top of the natural and social systems already here�”old-style top-down, outside-in design simply won’t work. The days of the celebrity solo designer are over. Complex systems are shaped by all the people who use them, and in this new era of collaborative innovation, designers are having to evolve from being the individual authors of objects, or buildings, to being the facilitators of change among large groups of people.

 
Quote from the great book "In the bubble" by John Thackara,

Open Technology Roadmap

Thu, 2005-09-15 22:52.

Openness is at the heart of truly worldchanging systems. Transparency of process, connections and results make open systems more reliable, more accessible, and better able to be connected to other systems; it also encourages collaboration and the input of interested stakeholders. This is perhaps most tangible in the world of technology, particularly information and communication technology (ICT); open ICT systems are increasingly engines of innovation, and are clear catalysts for leapfrogging across the developing world, via reduced costs, potential for customization, and likely interoperability with both legacy and emerging technologies.


Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society has just published something they call the "Roadmap for Open ICT Ecosystems" (PDF), a guidebook for policymakers, business strategists and technical specialists looking to implement open information and communication technologies around the world. The Roadmap doesn't focus on any single type of open ICT, but on the greater value of the open approach, and the ways in which open systems encourage collaboration and innovation using "a potent combination of connectivity, collaboration and transparency."


One aspect of the Roadmap that I find particularly compelling is that, although it speaks only to information and communication technology needs, the majority of the principles and ideas considered could apply more broadly -- to other kinds of technologies (such as biotech and nanotech), and even to political and social systems (such as voting methods and urban planning).


It's this broad approach that allows the concepts to apply to more than ICT. Consider, for example, the Roadmap's list of Guiding Principles of Open ICT Ecosystems:


An open ICT ecosystem should be:


Interoperable – allowing, through open standards, the exchange, reuse, interchangeability and interpretation of data across diverse architectures.


User-Centric – prioritizing services fulfilling user requirements over perceived hardware or software constraints.


Collaborative – permitting governments, industry, and other stakeholders to create, grow and reform communities of interested parties that can leverage strengths, solve common problems, innovate and build upon existing efforts.


Sustainable – maintaining balance and resiliency while addressing organizational, technical, financial and legal issues in a manner that allows an ecosystem to thrive and evolve.


Flexible – adapting seamlessly and quickly to new information, technologies, protocols and relationships while integrating them as warranted into market-making and government processes.


With a few slight adjustments to the phrasing, the same list would apply well as guidelines for a distributed energy network, or as guidelines for a transportation system, or even as guidelines for cooperative biomedical research. This isn't because the guidelines are vague or overly-broad, but because many infrastructure and service systems ultimately have similar needs for sustainable success.


That said, the Roadmap does give ample detail about the particular value of open information and communication technologies. Most useful, perhaps, is the section on how open ICT ecosystems can evolve. The Roadmap authors pointedly do not expect governments and organizations to shift to an open approach in one great leap; rather, the move to openness requires a great deal of rapid prototyping and incremental adjustments, to allow the particulars of the implementation to match the organization's context. That's the corollary to the low-level similarity of needs across disciplines: the specific circumstances of each case will be highly variable. The guidelines and the Roadmap don't tell you the answer, they help you find the answer.


This is one of those documents where the short length -- it's well under 50 pages -- belies the richness of the material. Open ICT systems have a definite value for development efforts, in terms of both leapfrogging and local/regional economic regeneration (it would be useful, for example, for the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast to keep the principles of open systems in mind). Even more useful, at least for me, is the degree to which the Roadmap triggers further consideration of how the open system concept applies outside of the realm of information and communication technology. The core principles of "connectivity, collaboration and transparency" have far broader application than just ICT; they are at the heart of a robust, flexible and sustainable model of society.
Via worldchanging.com

Shoshana Zuboff - The Support Economy

Thu, 2005-09-15 15:23.

Q: Under what conditions do new episodes of capitalism emerge?


A: Each new episode of capitalism emerges from the complex interplay of three forces: (1) New human yearnings that create a new approach to consumption and new kinds of markets, (2) technologies capable of addressing the demands of the new markets, and (3) a new enterprise logic that can link employees, technologies, and markets in new ways.


Q: Do these conditions exist today?


A: Yes. First, today's people are pioneering a new approach to consumption that we call the individuation of consumption. They want to be treated as individuals, not as anonymous transactions in the ledgers of mass consumption. They want to be heard and they want to matter. They no longer want to be the objects of commerce. Instead, they want corporations to bend to their needs. They want to be freed from the time-consuming stress, rage, injustice, and personal defeat that accompany so many commercial exchanges. They seek advocacy in place of adversarialism, relationships in place of transactions. They want to take their lives in their own hands and they are willing to pay for what we call the deep support that will enable them to do so.Deep support, as we describe in our book, is not just an enhanced version of conventional customer service. It is an entirely new way of doing business, a radically different approach to the realization of value in which the very purpose of commerce is redefined around the objective of supporting individuals.


Deep support enables psychological self-determination. It produces time for life. It facilitates and enhances the experience of being the origin of one's life. It recognizes, responds to, and promotes individuality. It celebrates intricacy. It multiplies choice and enhances flexibility. It encourages voice and is guided by voice. Deep support listens and offers connection. It offers collaborative relationship defined by advocacy. It is founded on trust, reciprocity, authenticity, intimacy, and absolute reliability. Second, there is a new digital medium whose networked intelligence, flexibility, ubiquity, and complexity make it ideally suited to meeting the demands of the new markets for deep support. Until now, though, it has been bent to the purposes of the old consumption, according to the principles of the old capitalism. The new medium will not fulfill its historic destiny without a new enterprise logic capable of liberating its revolutionary potential.


The fire is laid. What's needed is the match. These conditions create the urgent need for a third force-- a new enterprise logic capable of marrying the new markets for deep support and the new digital medium. We call this new enterprise logic distributed capitalism. Watch the flames when these three forces finally combine. That will mark the real discontinuity between the economy of the twentieth century and that of the twenty-first.


Full interview
Further reading

The Power Of Us

Thu, 2005-09-15 14:45.
Mass collaboration on the Internet is shaking up business.
Full article

A small business for everyone?

Thu, 2005-09-15 14:33.
Mastercard and Warillow International have just published a research study on a new class of small business: the "Web-Driven Entrepreneur". The study estimates that there are 5 million of these businesses in the United States and they represent 25% of all small businesses.
...Two companies; Google and E-Bay have been fundamentally responsible for this new market by creating dynamic access points for these entrepreneurs. These companies provide small businesses with instant scalability and the chance to compete with their larger competitors, by giving them the opportunity to advertise and sell to massive markets.
... The idea that everyone can be an entrepreneur is a powerful one. For banks, web hosting companies, insurance companies, lawyers and a yet to be dermined class of middlemen, this could be huge. The secret will be to understand that this new world will not be about segmenting people into neat boxes, those who are small businesses and those who are not.

 
Full article

The Sharing Economy

Thu, 2005-09-15 11:25.

Interview with Yale law professor Yochai Benkler

Q: How did you conceive the notion of peer production from such seemingly disparate activities?

A: I had been looking at commons-based behaviors in unlicensed radio spectrum and in intellectual property, and their important role in innovation. I was uncomfortable with the notion that this was purely a phenomenon of software or musicians. That doesn't explain Wikipedia. That doesn't really explain Slashdot [the peer-written and -reviewed tech news site]. That doesn't explain why Google was so phenomenally successful.

Q: What qualities do those things have in common?

A: [They show that] the economic role of social behavior is increasing. It used to be that if you said, "Here, this is interesting, why don't you read this?" it was primarily social. When you take the exact same behavior and plug it into Google's Page Rank algorithm, you actually get a discrete economic output that increases welfare in the economy overall -- even though you continue to have a certain social interaction there as well.

Q: Why is peer production happening now, and what technologies are enabling it?

A: With the steam engine, the archetype of the Industrial Revolution, we moved to industries where the physical capital was relatively concentrated. You had to have financial capital in order to enable effective collaboration between individuals.
What we're seeing now is cheap processors, which put computation on our desktops and in our laps, cheap storage, and ubiquitous communications. It's this combination of a low-cost personal computer and the Internet...that allows this aggregation of behavior. Things that would normally just dissipate in the air as social gestures come to have some persistence as economic products. This departs radically from everything we've seen since the Industrial Revolution.

Full interview

John Hagel on global process networks and localized modularization

Thu, 2005-09-15 11:07.
Companies that persist in viewing offshoring too narrowly will almost surely destroy significant economic value. The real winners will be those companies with a new perspective. They'll see that global success requires them to reassess the fundamentals of their business strategies and master a new set of management mechanisms that includes dynamic specialization, process-network orchestration, and productive friction. In this way, global success can not only be achieved, but also sustained.

 
Full article