Complexity and the importance of links
The structures of the brain and the Internet look the same. In the brain there are neurons that link as a result of being active at the same time. This firing together creates a connection, “a wiring together“, that increases the strength of their connection. On the Internet there are servers and people that are linked in temporal interaction, sometimes as a result of being inspired and interested in the same topic, “firing together”. This short-term communication sometimes leads to a relationship increasing the strength of the connection. No neuron links with all the other neurons at the same time. No server links with all the servers at the same time, and no one interacts with all the other people at the same time. So all interaction is always local, whether in the brain, in an organization, or on the Internet. However, local here does not mean spatially local. The nodes in local interaction can be physically located in different parts of the world.
We often think of individuals as independent and self-contained. The view suggested here sees individuals as nodes of the complex networks they form when interacting with others, co-creating themselves and the reality in which they participate.
A complex system consists of a large number of agents/nodes behaving according to their own principles of local, self-organizing interaction. No one agent, or, a group of agents determines how the system as a whole behaves. Self-organization here means the agents interacting locally, following their own principles, rules and intentions, without any steering from outside that interaction. All influence takes place in the local interaction. No one agent in the brain or on the Internet, or in an organization, can be in control of the whole system and how it develops, as it develops as a global pattern.
There is control and there is development, all the time. Both control and development are emergent phenomena of local interaction. The interaction itself constrains and enables the people in the interaction. People cannot just do whatever they want in a relationship. Relationships create stability just because relationships always impose constraints. Relationships that are based on diversity and difference may enable development to take place without a plan for development. There cannot be novelty if people in a relationship are alike. Consensus leads to stagnation. What happens is a complex ongoing process of people relating to each other. This places links, or relationships, at the center of understanding life in organizations. The number of nodes comes third, if even that. The second most important thing is the diversity/quality of the nodes. The most important things are the links; the process of linking: wiring together as a result of firing together, in the brain, on the Internet, or in an organization.
One of the biggest promises of Internet-based work is the way it redefines local interaction, as Doug Griffin puts it. Global participation is possible, beyond anything we have experienced before. Mass production is giving away to short-term mass participation based on mass communication.
The human brain has more than 100 billion neurons. There are around 1.8 billion Internet users at the moment. So we are still far away from the potential of the brain when it comes to possible link combinations of local firing together. But it is high time to visit our beliefs. There can be control without somebody controlling. There can be development without a development goal and a plan as to how to reach the goal on a global level. This is how the brain works. And this is how we work!
Thanks @venessamiemis for being the inspiration for this post. Thank you Doug Griffin for thinking together with me