Connections

James Burke (Connections, 2007), commenting on the Gutenberg printing press, observed “the easier it is to communicate, the faster change happens.” And “faster change” characterizes our experience of the times we’re in!

The “rising tide that lifts all boats” is readily associated with digital technology which has not only seen more than two billion people connected to the info-verse that is the Web, but has created ever more sophisticated building blocks for new generations of innovation. We have much of the world’s knowledge resources at our fingertips, huge constructive capacity available freely in open source software and increasingly in open source designs and hardware and advancing electronics building blocks. This kind of widely and freely, or very cheaply, available high leverage resource base really adds impetus to and underscores that “all boats” in a way that is unprecedented in history.

With each new tier of capability that is moved into technology, we’re advancing basic and applied science and launching wave after wave of “creative destruction” as products and even industries are continually re-imagined, further enabling their users to connect, to express, to learn, to build, to delegate expertise to systems that amplify what we can achieve.

We have moved ever more expertise into our tools, advancing not only efficiency but giving us enhanced, or even unprecedented, capabilities. For example, digital cameras, post-processing apps, and photo sharing have put capabilities in the hands of amateurs that even a generation ago took the focus of careers to build. Moreover, imaging technology has enabled us to see where we could not. Neuroscience, for example, has advanced at an exciting pace, owing much to the imaging capabilities that have been assembled into the machine that extends the reach of man’s ability to see and comprehend.

We are redefining manufacturing with ever advancing automation, moving ever more work to ever more skilled robots, and using visualization, simulation and 3D printers to speed prototyping and reduce the cost of very small lot size manufacturing, and bringing the ability to create with advanced components and materials into the reach even of home-based workshops.

With connection between and visibility into other cultures, and the knowledge and capability spaces of other fields, we are seeing a tremendous “Renaissance” in every field, with influence across previous “islands” of specialty.

Even so, humankind has taken something of a knock to its collective confidence these past several years, what with:

  • global recession, and struggling national economies
  • climate change

Not only has the vulnerability of interconnected global systems snuck up on our general consciousness, but our human fallibility is becoming all the more clear. Add to that wave after wave of digital transformation that is reshaping entire industries. The peril of change is constantly before us with a litany of fallen and stumbling giants ever resounding through the formal and social media: Borders, Kodak, RIM, Nokia, the list goes on. To be sure, some recover themselves, as GM did. While others manage to reinvent themselves, morphing to fit and even shape changing contexts, as IBM has done.

Still, “the topple rate–which tracks the rate at which companies change rank–has more than doubled, suggesting that winning companies have a tough time keeping their leadership position for long.” — Irving Wladawsky-Berger, Why People Are Gaining Power Over Organizations in the Age of IT, April 23, 2012 [quoting shift index]

All this change and uncertainty, taken together with a sense of inadequacy in the face of complexity and turmoil, and John Gall’s title for his delightful keynote/essay “How to use conscious purpose without wrecking everything” (2012) strikes a chord! How indeed? If we think of business strategy as organizational intentionality, and architecture as design to achieve more the outcomes we intend, this is something we ought to have some interest in understanding. What are the forces and dynamics at play? And more to the point, what is to be done, that we might adapt and thrive, taking advantage of the possibilities scientific discovery and innovation opens up, rather than falling to the waves of change? And how does this relate to architecture? And system development?

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