Wednesday, 22 April 2015

"Write an abstract of your research plan in Layman's terms"

A leitmotiv in our societies is inflexibility. We have great technology, though our supposedly smart phones are not that smart, solutions are one-size-fits-all, devices are not yet appliances, and so on and so forth. And of course we have organizations, which work of course, and are supposed to serve us; but in fact they do so in a very inflexible way, through rigid hierarchies that lead to inefficiency, long service times, and yes very high costs! In fact they look like aqueducts that lose much water along their pipes.

This seems to be two different things, but in fact I think it is the result of a same mistake: looking at things as individual rater than social systems. If you have to design an individual system, you only consider its relationship with the environment it will be placed into. As resources are limited and constraints are many, you need to face trade-offs: for instance, costs versus functionality, comfort vs. energy efficiency, etc. The net result is systems that are systematically unflexible and systematically fragile. If there is turbulence, meaning that things change rapidly, technology reveals its nature of a sitting duck for change. Now, if you look at social organizations, they are the same: they are the result of trade-offs operated while considering them as individual entities. Thus for instance we have organizations such as the civil defence, the police, and the fire fighters; but they are systems incapable of any interaction, of any cooperation. They can't even share their knowledge, let alone work together! As they are "necessary", constraints mean less to organizations. In the end, we "pump" lots of money in them, in the hope of making them "better", readier, smarter. Unfortunately we get so few in return. This becomes apparent especially in times of crisis (Sometimes one even asks where the organizations are! See for instance “Where in the hell is the cavalry on this one?”).

What is missing across the scales is the social and the "ecological" dimensions. "One man is no man", as they say, though it is also true that one device is no device, and one organization is no organization. Systems, men, organizations-they are all the same: complex Wholes that constitute greater Wholes. Dimensioning of resources while designing an embedded system or a novel social organization should be a social rather than an individual-oriented process. Systems, services, organizations—they should be designed with interoperability in mind. They should be regarded as Wholes and at the same time they should be realized as Parts of greater Wholes—on, on towards an ever greater degree of emergence; of quality, of adaptability, of resilience, of flexibility. This is what my Fractal Social Organizations aim to achieve. This is where I'm directed in my research action for the coming years.

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