Duncan Watts [presentation]:: The Myth of Common Sense


Duncan Watts is a clever guy! Not just because he is well educated, which he undoubtedly is but because he has the ability to explain why “common sense” works in the appropriate domain(s) – simple, maybe even complicated – but is particularly dangerous in complex or chaotic domains. But, then again, that is what this definition tells us: “sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts“. But when I talk about these different domains you should not visualise this as “islands” or separate entities. Rather, as various “conditions” or “states” that can be found within a single complex [adaptive] system, its sub-systems and networks at any given time, as it performs the many inter-connected processes that underpin functionality.

Why is this relevant? Because “common sense” isn’t much use if you are dealing with a system so complex that you CANNOT understand its complexity, track causality or anticipate the unintended outcomes (or unintended consequences)! Where the smallest decisions can have enormous consequences and the smartest decisions can be counter-intuitive, how can they be validated when the crowd advocate “common sense”???

I urge you to watch the presentation (even read the book!) and, if this has whetted your appetite, you may also be interested in what Atul Gawande has to say about surgeons dealing with complexity, Tim Harford talking about Oil Rigs or Dave Snowden a kids party!

Social problems…must be viewed not as the subject of rhetorical debates, but as scientific problems, in the sense that some combination of theory, data, and experiment can provide useful insights beyond that which can be derived through intuition and experience alone.

Freakonomics » The Myth of Common Sense: Why The Social World Is Less Obvious Than It Seems.

Too often we are guilty of over-estimating our own knowledge and underestimating what appears familiar even though we know that appearances can be deceptive – some “creatures” are particularly adept at exploiting this knowledge – and how much we have learnt by looking deeper (into space) or more closely (DNA, bacteria). Living systems come in all shapes and sizes but their true nature and an understanding their “structure” cannot be ascertained without observation at a variety of scales.

Still not sure why complexity is such a big deal?:: You won’t be after this – "RSA Animate – The Power of Networks"


Understanding complexity is a major advantage in the Digital Age. Measuring and, dare I say, managing complexity is the first step to achieving the simplicity that Einstein spoke about…this is where the ability to transform failing “models” comes from. This is powerful knowledge and we, at Ontonix, want to share it for the good of us all. It is Our Mission

From, before, our earliest days to today, complex networks are in and around us

Complexity and Consequence: what financial and risk engineers MUST learn from mech. eng. (or anywhere)


Gadget craziness

Image by XuRxO via Flickr

Recently, I have found myself writing about the importance of ADAPTABILITY* & RESILIENCE in complex (business) systems. This is, partly, due to the fact that, the acceptance of the “shortcomings” of current risk models and tools, are becoming more widely “recognised” (in some instances “admitted”)!

*Boston Consulting Group recently cited “Adaptability: the new competitive advantage”.   

The number of Consultancies that – after many years of profiting from preaching the merits of (now-discredited) models and strategies – have now discovered, and wish to share, their “new found” expertise in “complexity theory” and “systems thinking”.

Unfortunately, their participation in the education process wont undo the damage done!

WE should be grateful that the damage their contribution to the prevailing culture has done is substantially reduced and that a higher level of business understanding is, increasingly, on the agenda.

However, I suspect that we have not seen the last of Consultancies promoting and implementing “solutions” that make (business)  systems and economies more fragile…because there are fees to be earned! Read more of this post

Updated:: Networked Networks Are Prone to Epic Failure


Image: From left to right, a failure cascades through an Italian power network (overlaid on the map) and the internet nodes that depend on it (above the map)./Nature.

Networks that are resilient on their own become fragile and prone to catastrophic failure when connected, suggests a new study with troubling implications for tightly linked modern infrastructures.

Electrical grids, water supplies, computer networks, roads, hospitals, financial systems – all are tied to each other in ways that could make them vulnerable.

“When networks are interdependent, you might think they’re more stable. It might seem like we’re building in redundancy. But it can do the opposite,” said Eugene Stanley, a Boston University physicist and co-author of the study, published April 14 in Nature.

via Networked Networks Are Prone to Epic Failure | Wired Science | Wired.com.

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Seth’s Blog: Hire an architect


If you have visited my blog before you will know I am a sucker for the wisdom of Seth Godin. I could share more but suggest that you do it yourself!

Architects don’t manufacture nails, assemble windows or chop down trees. Instead, they take existing components and assemble them in interesting and important ways.

It used to be that if you wanted to build an organization, you had to be prepared to do a lot of manufacturing and assembly–of something. My first internet company had 60 or 70 people at its peak… and today, you could run the same organization with six people. The rest? They were busy building an infrastructure that now exists. Restaurants used to be built by chefs. Now, more than ever, they’re built by impresarios who know how to tie together real estate, promotion, service and chefs into a package that consumers want to buy. The difficult part isn’t installing the stove, the difficult (and scarce) part is telling a story.

I’m talking about intentionally building a structure and a strategy and a position, not focusing your energy on the mechanics, because mechanics alone are insufficient. Just as you can’t build a class A office building with nothing but a skilled carpenter, you can’t build a business for the ages that merely puts widgets into boxes.

My friend Jerry calls these people corporate chiropractors. They don’t do surgery, they realign and recognize what’s out of place.

Organizational architects know how to find suppliers, use the cloud (of people, of data, of resources), identify freelancers, tie together disparate resources and weave them into a business that scales. You either need to become one or hire one.

The organizations that matter are busy being run by people who figure out what to do next.

via Seth\’s Blog: Hire an architect.