The four central human systems required for the maintenance of civilization are:

  • Change (Technology)
  • Irrationality (Religion)
  • Human Relationships (Law)
  • Resource Exchange (Markets)

These are societal systems, encompassing all of humanity. Various societies manage these systems with varying degrees of success and intensity.

The society that will manage the four systems most successfully will put its resources and scientific attention on the education of its people. Even if the four systems are currently balanced and vital in society, an inability to update education to respond to modern development will result in its decline.

In reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, The Post-Capitalist Society by Peter Drucker, and Critical Path by Buckminster Fuller, I have absorbed a sense of history encapsulated in the following summaries of power structures.

Societal Structure versus The Characteristics of Wealth

  • Hunter Gatherer – Ability to find, kill, and pick food
  • Peasant/Lord – Land and muscle to farm
  • Worker/Industrialist – Machines and electricity
  • Service Worker/Knowledge Worker/Venture Capitalist – Information and the people to manage it

What strikes me is the tipping of the scales of power. In the beginning, we have power concentrated in each individual. Then it tips sharply to the Lord who has God-like mastery of his people, as portrayed by the Egyptians. And then to the Industrialist, but as powerful as the captains of industry became, the Industrialist never had the power of feudal lords. Now power lies with the person who can configure knowledge either through the management of knowledge workers, or directly so.

So what does this mean about revolt? In the Hunter-Gatherer world, you could simply leave the tribe, take your direct family and start a new one. In the Feudal period, you had to rise up and kill the lords (and it had to be all of them or other lords would come for revenge) like in the French Revolution. For the Industrial example, there is the labor strike. But what about the knowledge worker? One problem of revolt is the blending of classes through increased mobility. But to think that leads to the annihilation of social discontent is naive. Perhaps the knowledge society’s revolt is passive resistance, such as tax revolts and civil disobedience.

This my be why civil liberty is on the decline in the United States. People are not aware of a new means of fighting injustice.

I often get paralyzed by thought. I find it very easy and acceptable to just think instead of acting, even when it becomes very important that I act. This even results in near-perpetual loops sometimes, as I go over covered ground, trying to find minutia I had skipped over. Needless, to say, this is really bad.

I did not understand the origins of this behavior well enough until I started going to talk therapy for depression. Here I realized a little bit about the different modes of thought I used, and misused. Talk therapy was very useful in regard to reacquainting myself with my own personal history/story. And through this self-viewing mechanism, understanding more about how I build my personal story and how I’d like to continue to do so in the future. The first thing I learned was about my two modes of thought, the synthetic and analytic (Mind you, these did not come from my therapists, but from a systems mode of understanding, applied to my own experience).

I have one mode of thought which is highly analytic, where I go about breaking things into sub-systems, trying to understand a model through its components. This is an inherently specialist activity because as I break the system into subsystems I am able to treat each subsystem as the new exclusive domain and pursue new subdivisioning.

The other mode is very synthetic, where I discard rules and inhibitions to put things together in new and interesting ways. This is the domain of creativity. Though I find synthesis more rewarding than analysis, I do if far less than I would like. I suppose one sensible explanation for this may be that breaking things down is a resource-cheap activity.

Progress is made through a balance between the two activities. However, I find that often I fall into an exclusively analytic mode when I’m trying to achieve something. This leads to paralysis because of two things.

The first problem is I try and take everything into account while making the task happen. Unless it is a virtual task that operates under high constraint, I will not be able to do the task while thinking analytically. This is probably why video games are so rewarding. I can maintain an analytic mindset while achieving a task.

The second problem is there are synergetic effects that occur while doing something. These are effects that are unpredictable from an analysis of parts. A line in isolation will never tell you that three of them form a triangle. An atom in isolation never tells you there is an attractive force between masses. Analysis breaks things into isolated systems and fails to reveal certain characteristics that are revealed through synthesis.

No amount of self-analysis is going to tell me how I’m going to interact with people, do in business, or create an artifact. What an analysis does do is optimize a story. By breaking things apart you can manipulate them in ways you could not as parts of a whole. From this point, you can reconfigure a personal story in such a way that the lens this story creates alters the way you look at things and therefore how you act. But you must always resynthesize and not bulk in perpetual analysis. Otherwise you get stuck with a stagnant system where nothing is discovered, only rediscovered.

I’ve cobbled together a simple little Ruby on Rails app. I’m going to leave it up for a couple of days running on my machine and then replace the link with a screenshot. This app was generated out of some meditations over randomness and success. I mean this literally, I was actuallying sitting in Zazen when a flurry of website ideas hit me and I had to rush to write them all down.

The app itself produces some interesting results, but see for yourself (just a screenshot to get the point across, I’m no longer hosting it). If anything breaks, give me a buzz. And if the site is running slow, then it means the app is popular and my machine is getting nailed, or I’m downloading something (I will try not to). Thanks and as with all alpha projects, sorry in advance.

Knowlege of Knowledge

June 4, 2007

The countries which were able to take advantage of optimizing methodology, first applying it to machines (Industrial Revolution) and then to human work itself (Productivity Revolution), were the countries who succeeded in creating wealth and its accompanying leisure. The adoption of this method is a cultural and therefore educational change.

Now we are entering into a period where disciplines are being created faster than we can learn them. In my case, the example is computer language, with new and effective languages popping up over night. The languages which are being taught in college will be outdated by the time you leave. It’s like having to learn Greek and Latin before you can learn the anything else, a tradition in need of decline.

The first people to apply optimizing methodologies to knowledge and learning itself, will be the masters of knowledge, the capital of our time, and will be the next to create a dearth of wealth. However, this will not a be a national change. The Internet allows a community dedicated to this task to cross national barriers for near-zero cost. So the next educational revolution will be created by an Internet community intent on optimizing the path to knowledge.

Not coincidentally, this is what I am working toward at my company Foobity. I’d turn this into a plug, but we don’t have anything we can show anyone yet.

I had a massive conversation with Jeff Lindsey yesterday. Eight hours of non-stop education talk. Our conversation ranged from computer games, learning, history, to religion. However, we always focused on one major theme, Design. Jeff is the first Design Scientist I have met.

Most people think of design in a purely aesthetic framework. Computer graphics, art, and the shapes of consumer items, are classic examples of the popular conception of design. But design, at its most fundamental, is analysing and synthesizing systems. Design is about the understanding of interaction. This is Jeff’s and my domain.

As Design Scientist, both Jeff and I are enamored by Systems. We learned Systems Theory through different iconoclasts. Jeff learned it from Russell Ackoff, who approaches systems from an organizational management point of view, though Ackoff does discuss systems in the abstract. I found systems through Buckminster Fuller, who approaches systems from a geometric/structural approach, but again talks about systems explicitly.

This article really has no purpose other than to celebrate having met a fellow Design Scientist. And I suppose it is kind of an introduction to some useful iconoclasts. Thinking of it that way, here are a few links that discuss Systems Theory at the essence level.

Ackoff:

Fuller:

  • Synergetics, a online book illustrating a system of geometry that is triangular/tetrahedrally based (stable structure), not square/cube based (unstable structure). Describes the basic interaction of systems.
  • Image Index for Synergetics, check out some of the different indices, some amazing shapes and interactions all based on the closest packing of spheres.

A quick exploration of mapping social connections between people reveals why companies are doomed to commit evil acts after they reach a certain size. I believe this critical size to be 162, but even if I’m wrong about the particular size, the same theory applies.

Lets say that you model the average employee’s company relationships on a two-dimensional plane. We could say that each person knows two other people. This would create a line like this:

Relationship:line.jpg

Organization: longline.jpg

If we really wanted to be true to the average employee relationship model, it would have to look like a ring. Otherwise, the persons on the end of the line would only have one relationship.

But this is hardly what work environments are like. Generally, you know a multitude of people, and may have atleast seen or shaken hands with a multitude more. But how many people do you deeply interact with at company on regular basis? My experience is about three to nine. Sometimes more, but this is rare. So an average employee number of relationships would look like this.

Relationship: hexagon.jpg

Organization: network.jpg

And of course, we have to make the average relationship occurs at all points, so this plane transforms into an approximate geodesic sphere.

icosahedron.jpg

Looking at this system, we can make some guesses about communication. If everyone has everyone else’s phone number, they could call anyone directly. Habit and hierarchy usually prohibit this. If something were to be passed by word of mouth, the minimum travel time would be the distance across a hemisphere to the point diametrically opposite.

Word of mouth: icosahedron2.jpg

If committing a socially unacceptable action (like dumping toxic waste into the water supply, running sweat shops, or giving up information about dissidents to oppressive governments) is based on your connection to the organizational community, then the larger the organization and the more visible you are in it, the less likely you will commit unethical actions. The extreme opposite of accountability is the jerk in an online forum. His anonymity is his protection. The opposite of that is a family. You certainly know where those people sleep at night.

In small organizations, all action goes noticed because communication is direct. With every increase in the size of an organization the distance from point to opposite (however you define opposite) point increases the distances messages about a person have to travel. Increase the distance and you increase signal loss. So if a company says it will do no evil and a core group of people behave this way, then as the company grows, the effect of this ethic gains less impact because cultural signal break down over travel time. It is not that the people are bad people, it’s just impossible to enforce an ethic over a certain size community.

Of course wrong is defined here as what the community sees as wrong.

Feel free to take these images and use them as you wish.