Emergence – Part 2

First of all – if the concept of Emergence is new for you – that extremely complex outcomes such as life itself, flocking by birds or winning the Netflix Prize – are not the product of a God, a Plan, a CEO but emerge from a Container (An optimal environment for that growth) and a simple Set of Rules – then here is a great short video from Nova that in 4 minutes will give you a sound introduction.

In my first post in this series I proposed that if we use the ideas of Emergence we might find the larger opportunity in Social Software – that it may help us solve many of our intractable problems.

That Social Software – if used properly – might have the same explosive impact on human society and our connection to the rest of the planet that the acquisition of complex language did 60,000 years ago.

If you are still with me – let’s remind ourselves of what drives emergence generally and then see if we can find the model for humans and then how Social Media may fit. What would using Social Software “Properly” mean?

To have Emergence you need 3 elements:

  • You need some kind of “Container” – An Environment that is optimal for the Emergence in question. This can be physical such as the ideal environment for an Acorn to reach its potential as a tree Or it can be physical and energetic such as the physical and the social environment needed for a baby to be set on her way to reach her potential.
  • You need a lot of “Optimal Contact Points – Emergence is all about patterns. To have patterns you need many points of connection.Computers are not able to become conscious because they don’t have enough synaptic connections. They have a few hundred – the human brain has billions. A Human with too small a social world cannot reach her potential. 3 birds cannot make a flock. A few breezes don’t make a hurricane. A few stars do not make a galaxy. No flow in water and you cannot have a vortex. When man had no complex language, he could not communicate widely enough to make much technical progress. He could not create patterns. A father might show his son how to carve a hand ax but an emergent breakthrough like a throwing stick or a bow and arrow would be beyond them. For without complex language enabling abstractions and enabling a large circle of participants the creation of patterns – abstract thinking and design cannot happen. For then, if it could not be seen and copied it could not happen
  • You need a few rules that both shape the pattern and also keep it coherent. As we learn more about complexity, we are astounded by how few the rules are and how often they are so simple. With computers it is easy to model bird flocking now. But, to get the pattern, we also need the process of iteration and we need a computer to do the math. But to model, we need to know the rules. Nature always has rules. Nature’s rules always have a mathematical base. We now know the rules of Electro Magnetism. There will be rules for Social Energy as well. They will be few. They will be fractal. They will need to be iterated. This is not Kumbya – there will be a science here.

So can we posit what the essence of these 3 requirements may be to offer us a chance of seeing the true workings and the real potential for Social Software? I think we can. In this remaining part of this post, I will point directionally to where I see the answers. In the next post I am going to speculate about the details.

So stripped back to the essentials I think that we can see the Container and the Connections in the following single picture. This model is from BreakOuttheBox


I see this as a “Sun”. I think that the “Container” is the Circle of Concern. Inside the Container is the “Mass” the boiling energy of the interactions of people that are connected around the Circle of Concern or as I think it is better put – The Intent. Not its mission – its Intent – it should move naturally and energetically to the Intent.

So what then is the energy that shines out of the container and grips the hearts and minds of the people?

There is surely a gradient here. Cubs fans are energized by their team. Employees of a well know brand enjoy being connected to it.  But would they die for it?

Many parents will die for their kids. Men in combat will die for their small circle of mates.

So if this is the gradient, is there a sweet spot?

I think that there must be.  I suspect that most of us want more than to work for shareholder value or for the abstraction of a bureaucracy. We long for a real cause. I suspect that many of us are sports fans because we long to belong to a cause that is larger than ourselves but cannot find it in our day to day life.

Does our past and our nature offer us a clue for the rule here?

In tribal times there was no separation between work and life and play. There was no separation between family and work. There was no separation between the people involved and the collective reward.

But today we are so splintered. Only parts of us parent, partner, work, play. Our energy is fragmented.

My bet is that the ideal is to re-align most of us back as a whole. For example, in the really depressed cities in America such as Cleveland or Detroit, all could get together to “Re-invent” their city to provide all with a livelihood and a future.

The answer to the ideal Intent or Circle of Concern is that it will include most of our total needs and our identity. It will help us align our energy more fully.

A great sun has also to have Mass. So what might this be in human and social terms? What is the Circle of Influence?

We can see this in two simple examples. A single mum or a single acorn has a very slim chance. They don’t have enough mass. A Tribal Family and an Oak Forest do have the optimal mass. They offer a very good chance of continuing life and expanding complexity – emergence.

But while the container has to have some scale and mass, in human terms, the scale has to be made up in fractal segments that are still small enough to keep the human connections viable. Healthy cities are really collections of villages or neighborhoods. Prison and large high schools are not healthy because they don’t have human scale subsets. Most traditional organizations are not healthy because they are not made up of tribes and or neighborhoods. Departments are not tribes!

Also there must be diversity. An oak forest is made up of many living things – it is the opposite of a monoculture. In Permaculture, no plant is planted on its own. They are planted in “Guilds” – natural diverse groupings that support each other in complex ways – adding nutrients – keeping predators away etc. Permaculture is an intentional way of replicating the optimal design of nature.

So following this rule, a modern family – 2 parents or less and children is not diverse enough to offer the kids a broad enough world view. School is often a monoculture as are most workplaces. Diversity in not about race or disability etc. We have got distracted by our post modern view of the world. Human diversity is about world view and POV.  Are you out going or shy? Are you a natural Early Adopter or maybe even a Laggard? Are you an ideas person or a pragmatist? Are you a warrior of a nurturer? This is our true diversity. A healthy group contains all of these types.

For Emergence depends on the synthesis of difference. As we all know, connecting a lot of this kind of difference productively is a major major challenge. I will have a lot to say about how we might do this in the next post for this is an area where we need more than good intentions. We need good process.

So the Mass part of the human ideal container needs an ideal scale for humans and it needs the maximum world view diversity.

Bottom line – the ideal Container has an Intent that can fulfill most of what we need to make us whole as a person. The ideal Mass inside the Container is a network of fractal units of people that are very diverse but united by the Intent and are highly connected. Like a brain!

In the last post in this series, I will share with you work that helps us know what the rules are for the ideal human fractal components will be and also how to make connections that work across the barriers of human diversity.

What is the ideal scale of influence? What will naturally help say the warrior, the geek and the nurturer connect productively?

Part 3 is here

1 thought on “Emergence – Part 2

  1. Pingback: Emergence – Part 3 – The Rules | Rob's Fast Forward Blog Posts

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