Category: Pound of Obscure

A collection of links, quotes, videos, and other things I find of interest and want to keep a record of, along with brief asides of my own thoughts and notes.

The sciences of complexity are a variety of process-oriented areas of research exploring non- linear dynamics within complex systems. As I have mentioned before, the simplest definition for a complex system is any system with more than three interacting variables. Complexity is thus a common feature of the world we inhabit.

Daniel Christian Wahl – Understanding complexity: A prerequisite for sustainable design

Since it began operations in 2010, Uber has grown to the point where it now collects over $45 billion in gross passenger revenue, and it has seized a major share of the urban car service market. But the widespread belief that it is a highly innovative and successful company has no basis in economic reality.

Hubert Horan: Uber’s Path of Destruction – American Affairs Journal

Since time immemorial humans have complained that life is becoming more complex, but it is only now that we have a hope to analyze formally and verify this lament. This article analyzes the human social environment using the “complexity profile,” a mathematical tool for characterizing the collective behavior of a system. The analysis is used to justify the qualitative observation that complexity of existence has increased and is increasing. The increase in complexity is directly related to sweeping changes in the structure and dynamics of human civilization—the increasing interdependence of the global economic and social system and the instabilities of dictatorships, communism and corporate hierarchies. Our complex social environment is consistent with identifying global human civilization as an organism capable of complex behavior that protects its components (us) and which should be capable of responding effectively to complex environmental demands.

Yaneer Bar-Yam – COMPLEXITY RISING: From Human Beings to Human Civilization, a Complexity Profile

Even if you are not a reductionist and believe, as I do, that there is genuine causal power and functionality in the arrangements of things that is not contained in the things themselves or fully explainable by their low-level interactions, you are still left with the question of where that functionality comes from. It does feel like it somehow violates the conservation of causal power for evolution to have simply created systems that can do things – truly amazing, incredibly powerful things – from the mundane, purposeless matter that we are all made of.

Kevin Mitchell – Were the principles of life invented or discovered?

Many people believe that complexity is just higher order complicatedness i.e. that there is a continuum and that the difference is one of degree, not type.  When one considers however how very different these states are from each other, I tend to agree with Dave Snowden when he says that there are in fact phase shifts between them i.e. they are fundamentally different types of systems.

Why is this important:  as long as decision-makers believe they are dealing with complicated systems, they will assume they are able to control outcomes; find solutions to problems and waste a lot of money on expert consultants to give them the “answers”. For organisations to become more resilient and sustainable, business science simply has to move beyond its Newtonian foundations towards an understanding of complexity.

Sonja Blignaut – 7 Differences between complex and complicated

The default marketing strategy for this category of tool is to emphasize efficiency….

The marketing from efficiency argument is simple to articulate and deeply rooted in an industrial mindset. Tools are good if they make workers more efficient; Frederick Taylor opined on the size and shape of shovels to improve the efficiency of strong-backed men moving stuff from pile A to box B. Knowledge workers aren’t shoveling coal. None of us work in typing pools.

These tools and their effective (not efficient) use are better understood from the perspective of augmentation laid out by Doug Engelbart. Saving keystrokes isn’t the point; redistributing cognitive load is.

Jim McGee – Knowledge Work Effectiveness not Efficiency

As software eats more of the world, we’re abstracting more controls to panes of glass. Touchscreen-based user interfaces are more flexible and cheaper to design, develop, deploy, and iterate than dedicated physical controls. But touchscreens come at the expense of nuanced control in critical situations, where tighter feedback loops between the system and its operators can make all the difference.

Jorge Arango – Touch Screens and the Loss of Nuanced Control

An example of Layers of Abstraction, the Cost of Convenience, and the Commoditization of Experience

There is no standard. There is only the ongoing work to learn, to work with others and to be better. This vulnerable mindset keeps us outwardly engaged and with a strong focus on learning and adaptation.  Engaging with our communities and helping them to create change, learn and adapt is an important part of this process of mastery.

Simon Terry – Brittle Careers

While the methods and the amount of collaboration required may differ, what goes for individuals goes for organizations. Every single time you are faced with a decision, you need to ask “Do we have the right information to make this decision?” If you are continuously making decisions, you need to continuously ensure that those decisions are well-informed.

Erica Hall – It’s never a good time to do research

If we want to re-design economics based on what we know about life’s strategy to create conditions conducive to life, we need to question some basic assumptions upon which the narrative underlying our current economic systems is built. The narrative of separation has predisposed us to focus on scarcity, competition, and the short-term maximization of individual benefit as the basis on which to create an economic system. Life’s evolutionary story shows that systemic abundance can be unlocked through collaboratively structured symbiotic networks that optimize the whole system so human communities and the rest of life can thrive.

Source: Life’s economy is primarily based on collaborative rather than competitive advantage