I cannot help but be amazed at the “virtual anthill” we are all a part of on linkedin, twitter, facebook, et al. When you read about the theories and ideas of emergence, one of the most consistent examples is an ant colony. The reason for this is there is ruler of the colony only an collective intelligence that is gained from individual ant’s actions. We know that ants are highly specialized but this is not directed but a result of a few simple rules. The key is that if there were only 10 ants in the colony, it would not work but with thousands it becomes a highly effective strategy.
This is what we all do using technology. We know our own simple rules and we connect and talk each day with people and apply our rules to these interactions. Just like ants and pheromone trails, when we find someone or something of “value” we talk to others and that path becomes more heavily traveled as others follow us. The alternative also holds true. I was re-reading Steven Johnson’s book Emergence and he points out 5 fundamental principles for building a system designed to learn from the ground level:
- More is different – In order to build it, there must be divergent points of view
- Ignorance is useful – Don’t think too much
- Encourage random encounters – Thousands of individually arbitrary meetings can produce amazing results
- Look for patterns in the signs – You don’t need to be brilliant, just pay attention to the what you see
- Pay attention to your neighbors – Local information can lead to global wisdom
If you like these concepts, pick up his book as it provides some tremendous insights into emergent systems and will make you look differently at what we do each day…and why.
In the meantime, get our there and make some arbitrary contacts and see what happens!