15 Sep It’s a Small World
We have already dedicated our news blog to the kick-off event of our Transformation Talks as well as the panel discussion on New Work. This post will focus on the expert talk with our advisory board member Prof. Dr. Dirk Brockmann on April 29th.
It is probably the most powerful megatrend of our time: Connectivity. Connectivity affects everyone. It links everything, makes our world more and more complex, and permanently changes the parameters for corporate success. To drill down on connectivity as a multilayered phenomenon, we were pleased to welcome a top-class academic guest from Berlin: Dirk Brockmann, professor at the Institut für Biologie, scientist at the Robert Koch Institut and complexity researcher. In the following blog post, we will provide an insight into the exciting Transformation Talk.
Connectivity in Connexion with the Transformation Engineering Framework
Host Dr. Christoph Wargitsch opens the hybrid event with a keynote. He gets the audience on site and the participants in the livestream in the mood for the topic of the Transformation Talk: “It’s a small world. On the power of networking.” The term “small world” was characterized by psychologist Stanley Milgram back in 1967. At this time, he hypothesized that everybody in the world is connected to everybody else, through an average of six acquaintance relationships. Milgram’s experiment and his conclusion are controversial, but they illustrate that connectivity is indeed a complex system. “Crucially, the increasing connectivity brings the world closer together, with knowledge, trends and innovations spreading at high speed. And that’s what’s at the heart of today’s discussion”, Wargitsch emphasizes.
In his keynote, he mentions that humans have created many new networking possibilities in addition to natural networking: analog ones, digital ones, consciously induced ones, accidental ones, competing ones, symbiotic ones, visible and invisible ones. “Today, we want to focus on the aspects that affect us and our customers as business enterprises”, Wargitsch explains. “Important questions that concern us all are: Where is the journey heading? What are the opportunities and risks of ever-growing interconnection?” As examples, the physicist with a doctorate in business informatics quotes the use of Artificial Intelligence as an opportunity and the “Digital Divide” as a risk. “Children whose parents were able to provide them with laptops and the proper usage of the devices were better connected to educational opportunities during homeschooling and thus had a distinct advantage.” Concluding his keynote, the host clarifies that the Transformation Engineering framework is affected by the megatrend of connectivity during all periods:
Out of the Box: New Perspectives and Other Angles
Scientist Dirk Brockmann chooses “Researching like a mushroom” as the slogan for his short presentation. He explains the analogy between complexity research and mycology: “The mushrooms you see in the forest are only the fruit bodies. The actual organism, the mycelium, is subterranean and connects all these fruit bodies. In complexity science, we examine connecting elements between individual phenomena, too.” He says that these phenomena, such as the climate crisis or species extinction, are already very complex on their own and in addition, they are all interrelated. Complexity has increased significantly in recent decades, Brockmann reports: “We are increasingly dealing with phenomena that are very multilayered.” One of these multilayered phenomena – and also a focus topic for the scientist – is the Covid pandemic.
In his presentation, he shows a timelapse video of the virus’ spread across the globe. The simulation depicts the spread from an aerial perspective. This technique is often used in complexity research to understand phenomena without getting lost in details. In this representation, the spread patterns seem complicated and hard to understand. “In pandemic research, it was helpful for us to change our point of view and take the perspective of the virus.” The professor also shows a simulation from the mentioned perspective and clarifies:
“National borders play a minor role in the spread of the pandemic. Mobility networks are much more important. As a result, places with a lot of air traffic are moving closer together.” The initial complicated spread patterns are suddenly easy understandable from the changed perspective. It becomes clear that networking is a crucial factor in the diffusion of Covid, not only the portative but also the social networking – or as Brockmann puts it, “the virus feeds on our contacts.” Changing perspectives has been a crucial transformation in the pandemic research. The scientist also highlights other relevant types of transformation concerning his researching:
1) Complexity Reductionism
Reducing a complex phenomenon to its essence, not to individual details. In physics, this skill is called “the art of neglecting”.
2) Caricatures of Reality
Experts consider the aspects of their daily work particularly important and thus distort reality. In complexity science, the scientists try to involve all disciplines to make a reduction possible.
When instruments are developed that allow new angles and perspectives, a science revolution will follow (e. g. telescope, microscope).
With this third point, Brockmann ends his presentation and gives an outlook: “Other tools, that makes new perspectives possible for us and that have been leading to a revolution in science for several years, are networks.” For example, mobility networks (such as global air links) had a decisive influence on the pandemic (see above). “At least as influential as mobility networks are contact networks. Smartphones are evolving into a powerful sensor for quantifying these contact networks.”
Connectivity: The "Most Powerful Megatrend of our Time"
After the presentations from Christoph Wargitsch and Dirk Brockmann, the two physicists get into the expert talk. The host quotes the definition of the megatrend connectivity by the Zukunftsinstut: “The principle of networking based on digital infrastructures. Networked communication technologies are fundamentally changing our life, our work, and our business.” The Zukunftsinstitut calls connectivity the “most powerful megatrend of our time.” Brockmann explains that in all systems, where connectivity is undergoing change, the systems themselves are also changing. He quotes the spread of diseases through increased mobility and the dissemination of information through digital media.
Increased connectivity thus results in positive and negative aspects. One not quite popular aspect is the environmental impact, as Wargitsch points out: “In 2018, Germany generated 33 million tons of CO2 through the operation of the internet and all internet-enabled devices. This amount corresponds to the CO2 volume of the entire domestic German air traffic.” Complexity theory often talks about how increased connectivity results in increased dynamism, faster and stronger amplitudes of excitation, and increased complexity. Brockmann can’t agree with this causal chain completely: “It depends on the concerned system. Here we can learn from biology. Networks such as those between pollinator insects and flowering plants become unstable and collapse if the interconnection is too strong.” Brockmann points out that ecological networks, which are now very well analyzed quantitatively, are often important sources of knowledge for complexity research. These are structurally rich and robust systems, he says.
Quick and Effective Problem Solution: Theory vs. Reality
During the expert talk, Brockmann talks a lot about his work as scientist at institutes: “Hierarchical systems work well in routine but are very weakly adaptive. It takes lateral connections to form powerful work groups and solve problems quickly and effectively.” He asks entrepreneur Christoph Wargitsch if he can apply this insight to large business enterprises. The CEO agrees with him, but also reports difficulties in practice: “During transformations, we often try to introduce a third operating system in addition to the classic, hierarchical system and the project organization: spontaneous work groups that come together on an interdisciplinary basis and then dissolve again. However, this is sometimes not well received, not understood and difficult to explain.” Brockmann says that he often encounters the same problems in German academia. In the US, on the other hand, this way of working has been the standard for a long time, he says. The density of innovation is therefore a lot more distinct. Another aspect that benefits science in the Anglo-American sphere is the strong error culture. “There, it’s okay if an experiment doesn’t work, and it’s precisely this spirit that we should take a cue from.” The fear of making mistakes often limits the exploratory component of science in Germany, he explains. Klaus-Hardy Mühleck, WARGITSCH Advisory Board member, former CIO at the Federal Ministry of Defense and participant at the Transformation Talk on site, asks how such a culture could be introduced successfully in Germany.
For Brockmann, the answer is obvious: “Through young people. Einstein was 25 years old when he developed the theory of relativity, Bob Dylan wrote ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ at the age of 21. The actual super-brains are the young.” The development of young people is close to the professor’s heart: He dreams of a Santa Fe Institute in Brandenburg, a venue for interdisciplinary learning. Wargitsch and Brockmann believe that meeting places should also be office spaces, both in companies and institutes. Creative collaboration between interdisciplinary teams is vitally important.
This video of the event is only available in German language.
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