Posts Tagged ‘Emergent Change’

Humans as Apex Predators

Simon Winchester’s latest book, Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World (Harper, 2021), caused me to think about humans’ roles in the overall ecosystem. Are we apex predators, meaning that we regularly eat many other species but no other species regularly eats us? The contrast that interests me is not apex versus […]

Perspectives on Work

I recently finished James Suzman’s fascinating book Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots (Penguin Press, 2021).  He chronicles humans’ work practices over many millennia.  The meaning of work has changed dramatically over this period.  Perspectives that we take for granted emerged much more recently than one might have […]

One Overarching Goal

Many problems and potential fixes are being considered and debated to address the pandemic, associated economic slump, and economic and social inequities. Climate change is hovering in the wings.  How do all these potential initiatives fit together? I think we can integrate all of these ideas by thinking about how they all support pursuit of […]

Too Many Stakeholders and Too Many Ideas

There are many complex contexts that involve a wide range of stakeholders with a broad array of ideas for improving the context of interest.  Such contexts can range from neighborhoods to wards to cities to states and countries.  I am involved in one right now with 200+ ideas; a few years ago, I played a […]

Brick by Brick and Other Innovations

I recently read Robertson and Breen’s Brick by Brick: How Lego Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry (Crown Business, 2013).  As my children, grandchildren, and I have been long-time Lego fans, this book was fascinating.  It led me to think about innovation more broadly. But first, let’s consider the Lego […]

The Old and New Normal

The old normal involved lots of bus, metro, and uber rides to meetings with sponsors, colleagues, and friends in pursuit of new opportunities, progress on existing opportunities, and just plain socializing.  Transit time was at least an hour per day and sometimes two, sitting in a bus, train, or car catching up on your email […]

Frustrations With Change

There are several forces currently driving change in our society: Pandemic impacts that have completely upset the status quo Economic impacts of the pandemic that have left many in dire straights Disproportionate effects of economic, educational and social inequities These forces have led to an overwhelmed healthcare system, enormous unemployment, and intense frustration on the […]

Understanding and Managing Complexity

If you think the complexity of the current situation – pandemic, global warming, and race relations – is overwhelming, I have a suggestion for coping with the complexity.  The just published issue of The Bridge (https://www.nae.edu/Bridge.aspx) provides a wonderfully broad and intriguing set of perspectives of how complexity is manifested throughout our society.  We cannot […]

Changing of the Palace Guard

It is interesting to live in Washington, DC and observe how sponsors and colleagues are reacting to the changing of the palace guard.  Most of these people are at least one level below the political appointees of the palace guard and will not be leaving.  They seem relieved, not existentially but practically.  Their new superiors […]

Problem Solving in Complex Adaptive Systems

It is important to distinguish between understanding complex problems and solving them. Solving problems in complex adaptive systems can be quite difficult and often intractable. Climate change, global warming and their consequences provide a compelling example. The science seems clear in terms of carbon emissions and greenhouse gases that lead to global warming. The relationship […]

Unfortunate Themes

Here is my recent reading/watching list: Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America by Kurt Anderson (Random House, 2020) The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket by Benjamin Lorr (Avery, 2020) Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell (Little Brown, 2019) The Social […]

A Reformed Optimist

“Everything will work out in the end and, if it doesn’t, it is not the end.” This was a theme in the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012) but attributed to Paul Coelho and John Lennon much earlier. I am an inveterate optimist, but I am reconsidering my inclinations.  Look how we have handled […]

Death by Complexity

Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies (Cambridge University Press, 1988) presaged Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Viking Press, 2004).  Both books provide vivid explanations of how societies fail and why. Societies create mechanisms to deal with new challenges.  Walls are built to thwart Mongol hoards.  Regulations are created to […]

A Real Deal

We have in the US over 400 years of injustice in our country. Native Americans, African-Americans, and more recent immigrants have all been abused. We have taken advantage of them for the benefits of mainstream Americans at the time. What was this mainstream?  Initially it was immigrants to Massachusetts and Virginia. Over time, we added […]

The Loss of Time

When all the days seem the same and the patterns of daily life endlessly repeat, you can begin to feel that time is gone.  The clock has stopped.  Nothing progresses. Everything is now.  The future, even the past, is on hold.  Everything will repeat, again and again. Of course, repetition has always been true. Birth, […]

The New Normal

Zoom and other online platforms are working out pretty well.  Teaching class this way is better than many people expected.  Many types of doctor’s appointments are much easier logistically and are more satisfying than driving, waiting, etc.  Social get-togethers using these platforms are not as good, but they are much better than social isolation. Once […]

Butterfly or Bat

The coronavirus started when a person ate a bat or another wild animal infected by a bat – both being in the same neighborhood market where wild animals were sold.  This person became “patient zero” in what has blossomed into the coronavirus pandemic. Of course, the bat cannot be faulted.  The behaviors of the human […]

What Happened Versus Why It Happened

How can we address alternative facts?  I think we should differentiate realities that can be empirically verified versus assertions about why these realities have occurred.  Succinctly, we need to differentiate data and evidence from various pundits’ interpretations. I am constantly amazed at the wealth of pundits available who will comment on anything.  There are thousands […]

Two Moles

George and Alice told Sam about Emily and Edward’s revelations. “Pretty impressive, actually.  You taught them all about sex,” Sam remarked. “So, you aren’t concerned that they know all about you?” George asked. “Yes, I am concerned.  Emily and Edward are now SoftCorp moles.” “Like Kim Philby in the early 1950s?” Alice asked. “Wow, you […]

Double Play

The man reached into his suit coat pocket, pulled out a wallet, and flipped it open to show his badge. “Agent Sam Baker, FBI.” George froze.  He did not know what to do.  After a few seconds of just staring at Baker, he said, “How do you know me?” “We have been watching Freethinker Forum […]

What My Cognitive Assistant Knows

I posted a piece on Emily, my cognitive assistant, last March. Several readers have asked me what she really knows.  Beyond deep understanding of health and well being, driverless cars, and complex systems in general, what does she know about me? She has complete access to everything I do via computer or other digital devices. […]

Understanding Organizational Failure

When do organizations fail?  It is typically when their financials go south.  Their deficits are unsustainable.  Cash is draining from the enterprise.  Their strategies for stemming the tide are too little, too late.  Why do organizations fail?  What causes these financial outcomes? The story that led to these consequences almost always started playing out much […]

Chief Executives With Cognitive Assistants

A university chief executive has come to realize that competitive forces are closing in.  Fortunately, the president has an AI based cognitive assistant to help formulate plans for addressing this new reality.  This assistant is named George. “How can these projections be correct, George?  We keep on raising enrollment and tuition to generate surplus revenue […]

When Cash Cows Cave

In my last post, I noted how Kodak, Motorola, and Xerox delayed introducing new market offerings in order to avoid cannibalizing their existing offerings – film, analog cell phones, and paper copiers.  They wanted to milk their cash cows as long as possible. Now these companies are shadows of their former selves.  Their cash cows […]

What If Machines Did Everything?

A recent issue of The Economist projected when humans will become obsolete, fully replaced by machines.  Some AI researchers projected 125 years, with AI researchers being the last folks replaced.  Other projections ranged from 30 years to 200.  How might this happen? I assume that humans will design machines that progressively take over human jobs.  […]

Higher-Order Consequences

The first-order consequence of driverless cars, when fully deployed and successful, is that humans will no longer drive cars.  That’s the whole idea.  Cars will be without drivers.  The many Uber rides that I take won’t change that much, except there will be no human driver. There are higher-order consequences of driverless cars being fully […]

Test Driving MOOCs

I have been researching Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), compiling best practices and other good ideas that I sought from a variety of colleagues.  I recently completed the first lessons of three courses on the best-known MOOC sites: Coursera course: “Chicken Behavior & Welfare” edX course: “Dinosaur Ecosystems” Udacity course: “Design of Everyday Things” All […]

The Academic Job Market

Engineering and science account for roughly three quarters of all PhD graduates, with half of these degrees awarded to US students and the other half to international students. Many of these graduates aspire to tenure-track faculty positions at universities. However, the percentage of faculty openings that are tenure track has been steadily decreasing for quite […]

Autonomous Vehicles

Various pundits are projecting that by 2020 – just four years – the driving of cars and trucks will be completely automated.  Vehicle services, whether for consumers or businesses, will be readily available for very reasonable prices.  I will not need to own a personal vehicle and my business can dispense with its fleet of […]

The Big Short

Just watched this movie this week, after having read many of the books published on the Great Recession, as well as having served on a National Academy study committee of what happened.  During this study, I had a chance to chat with the second most senior executive at one of the major banks involved, one […]

What Might Happen

Various pundits in sundry domains attempt to predict what will happen.   In domains such as climate change, urban systems, and national politics, which are laced with human and social phenomena, such predictions are folly.  There are far too many possible ways in which individuals and social groups can behave in response to evolving events, whether […]

Transformation as a Wicked Problem

In 1973, Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber published “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning” in the journal Policy Science (volume 4, pp. 155-169).  In this article, they characterized “wicked problems” as follows: —  There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem —  Wicked problems have no stopping rule – there is always a […]

Levels of Change

Fundamental change is pervasive across every level of life.  In this post, I compare four levels and time scales of change including evolution (millions of years), history (thousands of years), industry (centuries), and technology (decades).  This comparison leads to a few overall observations about transformation and a few insights into how people think about fundamental […]

Technology-Driven Change

Change tends to be very difficult, but it does happen.  Technology is one of the key drivers of change.  Technologies enable new possibilities, such as typing this post on my iPad early Sunday morning, sipping coffee and listening to the rain. The iPad means that I can be productive any time, any place. This capability […]

The Toughest Problem

Over the past two decades, I have often asked executives about their toughest problem.  Not surprisingly, they use many different words to answer this question.  However, there is quite a consensus around, “Running the enterprise I have while trying to create the enterprise I want.” Keeping the existing enterprise running tends to be a very […]

Replacing the Old Order

I recently read John Lynch’s Simon Bolivar: A Life (Yale University Press, 2006).  Bolivar played the central role in freeing six Latin American countries from Spanish colonialism.   The eventual domination of his armies and his subsequent nation building destroyed the old colonial order.  However, creating the new order was a much more daunting task than […]

Change in Science, Technology, the Arts, and Humanities

How does change differ within various aspects of society?  Are differing changes somehow related?  C.P. Snow has argued that there is a chasm between the arts and humanities, and science and technology (Snow, 1965).  However, all of these endeavors are inevitably influenced by the times in which they are pursued. Consider the late 18th and […]

Tipping Points

Malcolm Gladwell popularized the notion of a “tipping point,” the point at which something is displaced from a state of equilibrium and evolves, either quickly or slowly, to a new and different state of equilibrium.  For example, my telephone bill used to be something like $20 per month; now it is several hundred.  The capabilities […]

Responding to Change

We seem to be in times of great uncertainty and potentially enormous changes.  I have been wondering how different this is from the past.  To answer this question, I reviewed our country’s first 40 decades – from 1620 until now in the first year of the 40th decade.  How many decades would you guess there […]

Types of Change

It is typical to think about change in terms of intentions and consequences.  We intend to exercise more or eat better to achieve the consequences of weight loss and improved fitness.  The President intends to move the country towards greater use of renewable energy sources to achieve the consequences of greater energy independence and decreased […]