WayFinding in a world of Evolving Strange Attractors

Unpredictable Evolution of Complexity

There are times, when I catch myself believing there is something which is separate from something else.’

Gregory Bateson 

It is interesting to think about the concept of entanglement as a feature of the emerging zeitgeist of the scientific-secular world view. The frontiers of science and the digital environment and most things in-between seem to all share a common attractor - more dynamic, distributed, networked forms of organization.

The ideas of entanglement and superposition provide interesting metaphors for re-cognizing emerging narratives framing experiences of self. It can be very interesting to spot signals of emerging narratives for today we live in an unprecedented condition where daily life is deeply infused with a turbulent stream of stories.

There is a different between multiple stories of various heroes and understanding the unifying narrative of the Hero Myth. Each story can both, reiterate the frame of a common mythos as well as present a nuanced original aspect of a myth within the current mythos or even suggest something beyond the pale of the mythos.

William Gibson a science fiction writer who coined the term ‘cyber-space’ and who’s work inspired the emergence of a science fiction a genre called ‘Cyber-punk’ says that The best thing you can do with science fiction today is use it to explore the present. He recalls his sense that in the 60’s ‘the present’ lasted for about 3-4 years – since within that time little would change. But by 2010 he felt that big changes were a daily occurrence - "Now the present is the length of a news cycle some days… The present is really of no width whatever."

For Gibson the tricks that earlier generations of science fictions writer employed – to extrapolate current technology to imagine future worlds are becoming ever harder to use. He suggested that real world event tend to overtake anything a writer can conceive before their book can find its way onto the shelves and screens. Gibson points out that some critics consider science fiction to be a sort of historical category because it is no longer possible to think of it as a visioning of the future. As he notes: “I have to figure out what it means to try to write about the future at a time when we are all living in the shadow of at least half a dozen wildly science fiction scenarios."

Gibson’s observations are a brilliant framing to a discussion about emerging narrative whether they concern the digital environment, the sense of self, a national or ethno-linguistic identity, or the economy. It is important to highlight just how fast things are changing and how difficult it is to extrapolate today in order to formulate a vision of what tomorrow can be.

We should all be familiar with the butterfly effect – because we can not tell how small a difference can be, that will compound to make a big difference. It is impossible to specify the initial conditions of a complex and/or living system - what is the smallest important value of the smallest variable that could eventually compound with other values/variables to make a big difference?

Beyond the butterfly effect is the emergence of possible purpose. Purpose is fundamentally more relevant to complex and living system. Simultaneous with the emergence of purpose arises the possibilities of new uses, functions, purposes. These possibilities have been called variously – exaptation, Darwinian Pre-adaptations, Affordances, Adjacent Possibles.

the adjacent possible, prevents us from knowing what can happen and thus what will happen. New life forms and new tools open unimagined doors. Consider the screwdriver. Can anyone list all its possible applications? A screwdriver can not only insert a screw. It can also open a can of paint, wedge a door open, scrape putty off a window, apply heavy paint to canvas, or spear a fish. Turned into a fishing spear, it can be rented to a tourist and start a new business. The number of ways a screwdriver can be used is indefinite but not infinite. Furthermore, the different uses of a screwdriver have no ordering relation among them. Mathematically, they form merely a nominal scale. No rule-following-procedure or algorithm can list all the possible applications of a screwdriver or pre-state its next new application.

Stuart Kaufman

Most of our lives are spent in various forms of command-control organizational structures. Structures that are also modeled on machines where we ‘function’ as cogs. But the future seems to suggest that volunteer organizations are more suited to the self-organization required for complex systems of the digital environment.

Co-creating volunteer organizations is more art than ‘business management science’. For self-organized volunteer organizations to flourish requires a fundamental harnessing of intrinsic motivation. When a key ‘resource’ is intrinsic motivation – command & control won’t work for herding talent of intrinsically motivate ‘cats’. Key roles of self-organizing-volunteer-like systems include: catalysts, visioneers, coordinators, task-list-doers, cooperators, members, etc. In fact most individuals will embrace the necessity of ‘playing multiple roles’.

Marshall McLuhan noted that we must now “Learn a Living”. As true as this was when he said it – today’s pace of change makes it even truer. The key challenge of the past for organizations was to scale efficiency – to develop machine-like routines. Today the more important challenge is to scale learning. Constant learning has become the only way to adapt to and evolve with our rapidly changing world and work.

The key to scaling learning is to inspire, enable and harness intrinsic motivation. Learner-Workers who are motivated by the intrinsic rewards inherent in activities of their work are more naturally keen to want to excel, to explore and seize more opportunities continue to learn. Intrinsic motivation is also the key to engagement with their world.

Everywhere in society and at work we face increased needs to embrace non-routine, novel problems and challenges. This not only requires the capacity to learn and problem solve – it also requires new forms of collective intelligence and self-organized efforts. Whether people are in self-employed, work in small or large organizations – remain relevant and vital in the world of work means better social skills. Work is transforming from training people to be ‘cogs in a machine’ to educating people to engage in dynamic ecologies of activity.

Social intelligence now needs to shift its emphasis from maintaining stability to enabling complex relationships in ever changing networks. Citizens and workers need social virtuosity. However, that virtuosity is shifting from performing in an orchestra to the response-ability and social chemistry of jazz improvisation.

Whether one is a ‘gig worker’ or a corporate employee – learning, social chemistry, networks are the key to the future of work.