Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Steven Johnson on the Wisdom of Swarms

Steven Johnson, author or a number of great, thought-provoking titles including 'Emergence' and 'Where Good Ideas Come From' has just released a new book titled, 'Future Perfect'. In a post about it on his blog he includes the following quote from 'Emergence',
"To old-school progressives, the protesters appeared to be headless, out of control, a swarm of small causes with no organizing principle—and to a certain extent they’re right in their assessment. What they fail to recognize is that there can be power and intelligence in a swarm, and if you’re trying to do battle against a distributed network like global capitalism, you’re better off becoming a distributed network yourself."
The quote was written about the Seattle anti-World Trade Organization protests but, as Johnson points out, could just as easily apply to the Occupy Wall Street protesters of today. The spirit of that quote, in many ways a closing thought and not the central thesis, came to dominate discussions and derivative thinking. It is clearly a sign of the times that distributed network organizations dominate the headlines while those based on hierarchies struggle to adapt (with the possible exception of China).

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