Science isn’t a club. It’s a cultural activity, and it should be participatory. But if it were a club, these people would have made it a whole lot cooler.

“We are the kids who got in trouble in chemistry lab for setting the things on fire that we were not supposed to set on fire.”

That’s the official description of the people who made Experiment, a crowdfunding platform for scientific research. Crowdfunding and crowdsourcing have been a game-changer for many industries, including finance, humanitarian relief, startups, entertainment, and even the military, and the concept has has come to work some network magic on science. Science funding has traditionally been controlled by a few institutions and focused on their objectives. The network age, though, lends us the opportunity to widen those pathways to a greater number of scientists and a greater diversity of ideas.

On Experiment, you’ll find active research in rare diseases, dinosaur excavation, vitamins and eyesight, zombie ants (our favorite), and the scientific rigor you might expect from a couple of scientists who developed anthrax medicine for the Army.

Science tells us that innovation is path-dependent, as we learned from our interview with AI researchers Kenneth Stanley and Jeff Clune. A network that includes openness and diversity makes discovery and innovation more likely.

In The Competitive Advantage of Nations, Michael Porter introduces the idea of strategic clusters. (You know — Italy makes good shoes, the Valley spawns startups, etc). The gist of it is that innovation doesn’t just come from companies; it comes from ecosystems. The “stepping stones” to the next big thing arise from the surrounding network, often without a direct relationship to an objective. makes it possible for the stepping stones to the next big scientific breakthrough to come from untraditional channels.

design4emergence asked Experiment co-founder Cindy Wu about the path that led her and Denny Luan, undergrads at the time, to launch this curious startup experiment in 2012.

It was an ordinary summer for Cindy and Denny, resequencing proteins to fight anthrax…

d4e: How did you get the idea for Experiment?

Cindy Wu: Denny and I were last-year undergrads, and with a group of other students we had just designed an anthrax therapeutic for the Army. We used a crowdsourced video game where you can put up these proteins online and play this game to alter different parts to see if they come up with a new drug or probiotic. We made 87 different versions of that protein that summer. One was able to decapsulate the protective coat on the outside of anthrax bacteria.

The reason anthrax is so lethal is that when it enters your body, your body misidentifies it as safe, and so it spreads. But if you’re able to take off this protective coating, your body will recognize it as foreign and immune system will fight back.

We presented that research at the largest synthetic biology conference at MIT, and published the research, and the Army’s now doing follow up work on it. What we found is the same drug we created could also be used as an antibiotic for more generic bacterial infections in the hospital.

We needed like $5,000 to get that project started because we had all the techniques, we just needed to buy a few reagents. When I asked my professor where she could get grant money he just said, “Look Cindy. You’re an undergrad. You don’t have a PhD. The system just doesn’t fund people like you.”

So that’s when we decided we were just going to solve our own problem. If the government didn’t want to fund young scientists just because they didn’t have a PhD, then maybe the Internet could. We took a lot of inspiration from, which is a microfinance site. Denny had the idea of building a Kiva for science. We didn’t really know what that looked like, so we decided to just try it. We got nine of our professor and grad student friends to put up projects on the site. We funded six out of those first nine and never looked back.

d4e: What was the response from the scientific community?

CW: The majority of our users are professors and grad students at academic institutions, although we do allow anyone that has a research idea to propose projects on the site.

Over time, academics have become really interested because they think it’s a good way to fund really early stage research.

d4e: What types of experiments have you seen that wouldn’t be likely or possible elsewhere?

CW: There was a project where researchers tried to alter their vision to be able to see infrared. They haven’t published the results yet, but that’s something that probably wouldn’t get funded in the traditional realm.

There’s one experiment that actually uses the crowd to collect the data. He has ordered corn that is GMO and non-GMO. It looks identical. He’s sent it to all his backers, and his backers put it in their yard and see which corn the squirrels or other animals prefer. That part of crowdfunding and crowdsourcing is unique.

d4e: Is it usually research scientists carrying out the actual experiments?

CW: Most of the people proposing research on the platform are the ones actually carrying out the experiments, but we do have projects where people went through the literature and saw something they wanted to test, and then partnered with an institution to do the research.

For example there was a husband and wife team, and the wife found out she had a rare prion disease. Very little is known about prion diseases, but they found a compound that they wanted to test. Once they funded their research on Experiment, they applied to grad school, and now they’re both PhD students at Harvard Medical working on prion research.

One of the projects that’s raised the most on Experiment is run by a dad who found out both of his daughters had Batten disease. He did a literature search and found that there was one doctor in New Zealand who had treated the same type of Batten in sheep, so he’s replicating that study and using the rest of the funding for other types of gene therapy. I think we’re going to see a lot more research in rare diseases. This happened even before crowdfunding, where parents would take research into their own hands, and often they become experts in the field because they’ve read every paper that’s been published and talked to all the scientists.

d4e: What unmet demand is being served by Experiment?

CW: The most important thing that this allows scientists and avenue where they have full control over whether or not their research starts. In the traditional grant system you apply for a grant and maybe wait for a whole year before you figure out whether you get funding. With crowdfunding and Experiment, scientists put the idea up, get the money within 30 days and try it out, and if it works, run another campaign or use the preliminary data to go after a larger government grant. That was never the case in the past. The closest scenario we had before would be a faculty member going to a department head for some startup funds from the discretionary budget for some early stage research, but because research funding is drying up, it seems like those opportunities are dwindling.

d4e: What makes a successful Experiment?

CW: The most important thing is for the project to be well defined and for the researcher or whoever’s running the campaign to be very committed to the campaign, and to engage the community after it has run.

d4e: What’s new?

CW: The Journal of Results. People always wonder, once you fund a project, what do you get? The Journal was the first time we aggregated results from finished projects. That closes the loop on what is the reward on giving to science.

d4e: What are your goals for the network you’ve designed?

CW: We want to create a world where anyone can be a scientist. We want to be the first place people go when they have an idea for a scientific project, where they can share the results with everyone who has access to the internet.

I think the majority of the research will be executed by people in the public. And it should be, but it hasn’t been that way because to get funded by mainstream sources you have to have a PhD. Our network gives more access to more people (everywhere, including underserved communities and countries) who have the ideas that will push science forward.

So far, has rounded up over $5 million in funding for research and 19,000 backers, resulting in 20 published papers funded.

You never know where an idea will come from. No one knows this better than designers and our kindred spirits, scientists and inventors. The greatest leaps forward emerge as much from a network as from the genius of a single mind. Sometimes, the right objective for designing a network is discovery itself.

To learn how Dialog can help your business, contact us at 512.697.9425 or

This article was originally published in design4emergence, a network science community sponsored and nurtured by Dialog and Panarchy, the world’s first network design firm.

“For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”

— Rudyard Kipling

We define nodeness as the art and science of living and working as both a whole and a part.

The Greeks gave us a similar term holon, from holos, meaning whole. It’s not an entirely esoteric idea. We are at once individuals and members of families, groups, and communities. Employees work in teams to define organizations, and businesses create value inside ecosystems.

So why the fancy word?

Nodeness isn’t just about how pieces fit together. It’s the idea that there is nothing to the world but nodes and connections. That when we think we see an edge, in reality the full network has simply yet not fully emerged. There is no end. There is always something beyond: another input, another output, another impact. And it’s all connected.

This is the promise of network thinking. We must simply have the patience to sense it, the insight to design for it, and the confidence to act on it.

Nodeness energizes multiscale lenses and levers

Thinking in terms of networks also means thinking about multiscale lenses and levers. The same rules that govern the node rule the network, and vice versa. This means we can find power laws and principles that drive innovation, adaptivity, and resilience in people, teams, companies and ecosystems.

Nodeness also lets our perspective quickly scale without losing focus. Imagine a lens zooming out overhead from a single person, walking down a street, and pulling back into space. As that person moves, simply zooming back in isn’t enough to find them. But nodeness gives us the context we need to zoom in / zoom out with clarity. We understand what is pushing the person to move, where they might end up, and how they’ll travel. Nodeness keeps perspectives centered regardless of scale.

Nodeness helps us transmit purpose in meaningful ways

The search for purpose should be a short one. Ask yourself: What am I optimizing for? That’s your purpose — or it should be. As individuals and teams, we look where we spend our time and energy. For organizations, we can analyze dollar and talent budgets. For ecosystems, we look at how and where we are creating value. If we can transform our individual purpose, we can do the same at any scale.

And purpose is no longer an optional conversation, in an era of unprecedented transparency where all is eventually revealed. You can make endless statements and promises on purposes, but ultimately what we optimize for illuminates our true aim.

Nodeness shows us where the future of business is headed

At every scale, evolution rules. Humans have moved from questions of scarcity (food/water/shelter) to the challenges of abundance (equity/empathy/elevation).


Components of the S&P 500 Market Value


Businesses and brands, having made the most of the commodity economy, are seeking to elevate the value they bring to customers, as demonstrated by the rise of the intangible economy¹.

Are you ready to maximize your nodeness?  Dialog can help.




¹Libert, Barry, et al. The Network Imperative How to Survive and Grow in the Age of Digital Business Models. Harvard Business Review Press, 2016

About this brief

This is part of a series exploring the power and possibilities of network design.


“The future belongs to those who can see it.” David Bowie

To understand the core promises of network design, we must first understand emergence. Any process, any institution, any system, has one challenge: evolution. To learn, to survive, to adapt. In nature, evolution is slow but deliberate, killing things not suited for survival. Ray Dailio reminds us that it’s not cruel, but rather a kindness.

If evolution is the global rule, how do we create for a future marked by certain uncertainty? By looking to adaptive systems, living and built, that have been tested by time and survived not through scale or dominance, but adaptivity.  Our own body, natural ecosystems, innovative institutions and systems – adaptivity rules at every scale.

As we examine these systems, a pattern emerges. Adaptive systems succeed not because of any one piece or component, but rather the ability to orchestrate the parts as a whole. They are both a whole and an assemblage of links and nodes. They are networks.

Their primary value is orchestration, balancing and connecting elements, enabling growth and recovery, recombining and innovating.  Responding with adaptivity and waiting to see what happens next.  This is emergence – orchestrating the network and letting it do its best.

Where’s the science?

The study of complex and adaptive systems has been around for nearly 100 years, rethinking everything from natural ecosystems to global economies. The deeply informed, cross-discipline systems view of the world, practiced by experts like our friends at the Santa Fe Institute, continually yield important new patterns, power laws, and cross-discipline linkages.

Why Dialog Chose NX

We build everything to be adaptive. Whether it’s brands, business models, or a movement to transform behavioral health, network design is an ideal complement to everything we do, so we’re heavily invested in:

  • Solving complex challenges with a network lens that illuminates previously obscured connections and constraints.
  • Designing network-focused tools that map and measure narratives across ecosystems and platforms
  • Co-creating network-focused business models that outpace traditional revenue and valuation
  • Embracing nodeness in the pursuit of communication and collaboration tools that inspire leadership innovation and team transformation

That’s why it’s such a fundamentally amazing framework, extending the familiar rules and relationships into places and possibilities. No more external vs. internal, left brain or right. We are simply adaptive systems, mastering contradiction and making magic from the chaos.

Ultimately, we realized we’ve been network designers for a long time, before the label ever found our lips. Our best practices were all driven by a need to orchestrate and integrate, and that commitment to adaptivity has never wavered.  Across divisions and disciplines, network design continues to power our best ideas and engagements.

It’s the future, and we can see it. We can’t wait for you to learn more.

Three Key Takeaways from the Annual Santa Fe Institute Symposium

The Santa Fe Institute (SFI), a leading cross-disciplinary institute for the study of complex, adaptive systems, held its annual symposium this past weekend. This year’s theme was The Evolution of Legal and Regulatory Operating Systems. We asked Dialog CEO and design4emergence (D4E) Publisher Mark Thompson for his three overarching takeaways from the weekend. Here is what he said:

TAKEAWAY #1: “We are witnessing the rise of networks as an explanatory framework alongside the rise of networks as technology.”

Harvard’s Yochai Benkler, who has been called the “leading intellectual of the information age,” made this statement as he discussed his current focus: the explanatory nature of networks. To me, this related to something we talk a lot about at our network design magazine design4emergence: The fact that thinking and seeing and acting in networks is a major new source of clarity and advantage.

This is one of the reasons we keep seeing companies with high network intelligence (or “NQ “) punching above their weight. Our work with clients like Fallbrook Technologies, who is transforming transmission systems around the world, is a great example. Even though they are largely transforming “metal bending,” by thinking in network terms, they have multiplied the capital deployed in building their technology ecosystem many times over through the strength of the partners in their network.

TAKEAWAY #2: Psychology is strategy and purpose is power

Author and entrepreneur John Chisolm shared his wonderful new book on entrepreneurship in which he explains why his era online startup survived the crash and 9/11 when so many others didn’t. In Unleash Your Inner Company, John explains that passion and purpose can create the fundamental positive feedback loop that powers your company.

Passion without purpose is passing fancy, and perseverance without passion is drudgery. The two together create true flow; sometimes one feeds the other and vice versa. Perseverance feeds passion as practicing makes us more proficient and thus more passionate. And other times, passion feeds perseverance in a virtuous circle. As a network designer, I most appreciated John’s advice to “create, ride, and refine positive feedback loops” in your business.

For entrepreneurs, psychology is strategy because the virtuous circle at the heart of a startup is driven by the founder’s innermost drives. But it turns out passion is increasingly adaptive in large companies, as Deloitte’s John Hegel has proven. Over lunch, John (co-chair at Deloitte’s Center for the Edge) and I discussed what he calls the “Big Shift.”

The Big Shift is similar to what Dialog calls the “Great Acceleration.”  Hegel says that a consequence of increasing speed is that everyone must now be purpose-driven to survive. Whereas for most of the last century merely showing up for a paycheck was sufficient, it simply just doesn’t cut it anymore. His research into what kind of passion pays off in business points to an ideal corporate athlete Hegel calls the Explorer.

The Passionate Explorer is defined by:

  • A long-term commitment to making a difference in a domain
  • A questioning disposition and a relentless embrace of challenge
  • A connecting disposition – research shows that what Hegel calls passionate explorers are twice as connected as other workers

Taken together, the views of the two Johns align closely with what we call a Consilient or Integrative Leadership model, emphasizing integration of head and heart, and emotional intelligence (EQ) as much as IQ. We believe this is increasingly important to competing in what Fortune’s Geoff Colvin has called the human economy of the 21st Century.

TAKEAWAY #3: The urgent need for speed and wisdom in our collective dialog

As author and former SFI president Geoffrey West shared many times, cities are the source of human innovation. But they’re also responsible for a large share of global problems. Cities don’t suffer from sigmoidal S-curves like companies and species, but rather take off asymptotically toward infinity. That growth is driven by networks. The challenge with this type of growth is avoiding collapse, requiring cities to innovate faster and faster.

Now that we have reached the “back half of the chessboard,” as the Benkler-moderated panel shared, we have reached the point where “the designer is becoming the designed.”  Five technologies — biotech, nanotech, AI, ICT, and Big Data — are transforming us at the societal and biological levels. As SFI’s Brian Arthur has said, “Just because we can do a thing doesn’t mean we should.”  And yet just as we need to be more deliberative, our technology is pulling us forward faster.

These are all reasons it is now more critical than ever to become conscious network designers in our personal and professional lives. That we raise our network quotient, our ability to think, see, and act in networks. But that is not enough. If specialization and exchange have created our world, it will take Renaissance men and women to keep it whole. An intelligent response calls for NQ, EQ, and IQ — all helping drive a cross-domain dialog at a scale which we have never seen.

One of the enormous challenges with this, as an SFI fellow said this weekend, is that “…to get a message to rise above the bubble of communication today requires we augment with emotion like anger and indignation. That is why our civil discourse is now so uncivil.”  And if one is to pursue crowd-sourcing of legislation like Iceland or Liquid Democracy offer, it is critical to have people who have not already been “captured by a narrative like the Fox News set.”

Integral or Consilient perspectives are key. William Glenney, IV, deputy director of the Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Services Group, described how his organization not only sources* but also integrates diverse perspectives.

William’s group focuses on “wicked problems,” one’s for which there is no ready solution and instead one must build capabilities for solving the problem.  To do this, Glenney’s group seeks to blend diverse perspectives.  How do they know when they have achieved a synthesized view?  Glenney says they know they have achieved a synthesized point of view when they have accounted for all significant viewpoints

As we like to say, as Google has made the world searchable, the key to advantage is having excellent questions and frameworks through which to view the answers.

A footnote and postscript thought on Austin, where we work and live:

*The Strategic Services Group follows a programmatic, formal process that seeks perspectives across diverse domains and they’ve sent their experts to Austin, Texas for the last six or seven years. This made me wonder: How much more innovative has our hometown become in the last seven years? Geoffrey West would say, “Tell me the size of a city and I can tell you the number of patents filed.” Is Austin punching above its weight? I have always thought of the city as a leading innovator at least since Malcolm Gladwell said Austin is the place by which ideas make their way from West cost to East.

“All theories of organization and management are based on implicit images or metaphors that persuade us to see, understand, and imagine situations in partial ways. Metaphors create insight. But they also distort. They have strengths. But they also have limitations. In creating ways of seeing, they create ways of not seeing. Hence there can be no single theory or metaphor that gives an all-purpose point of view. There can be no ‘correct theory’ for structuring everything we do.” Gareth Morgan

Metaphor Insight

We develop a formidable understanding of individuals and cultures through the use of metaphors. We’ve learned to maintain stability by not rocking the boat or have used wallflower to describe someone who is quiet or shy. These metaphors communicate values related to security and social acceptance. On the other hand when we use metaphors such as life is a battlefield or refer to someone as top dog wecommunicate values associated with winning, advancing and being the best.

Machine Management

The machine metaphor is ubiquitous. From the dawn of the Industrial Revolution we have used metaphors about machines to communicate about work. When things are running smoothly we say they are “humming along” or “it’s well oiled.”  Likewise if we encounter a problem that needs to be fixed, we simply “re-engineer” the machine. Henry Ford captures the essence of the machine mentality when he asks, “why is that when I inquire for a pair of hands, they come with a brain attached.”

A machine is inanimate, non-relational and made of disparate parts; all separate but each serving the whole. The machine’s purpose is to be as efficient, quick and productive as possible. Machines don’t have other needs besides serving its one particular function.

Fifty years ago the political, social, economic and technological climate fostered an environment that was conducive to thinking we were separate. We are not separate, we are interconnected, and together we serve the whole. John Muir saw this truth reflected in nature, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it is attached to the rest of the world.” The metaphors we use to communicate our perceptions of the world profoundly shape our objectives, attitudes, behaviors and values.

The Need For a New Metaphor – Ecosystem Management

Modern organizations are composed of complex systems. In order to compete and stay relevant, we need to stop managing the static machine and start nurturing our dynamic ecosystem. The new recipe for success lies in our ability to keep our ecosystem healthy. As business leaders we need to continually ask ourselves if our actions make life more stressful or are they alleviating stress, simplifying processes and empowering those around us to do the same. The metaphor of an ecosystem implies we are part of a community of living organisms, in conjunction with non-living components (technology), interacting as a system. Future growth and success will depend upon aligning organizational objectives with ecosystem management principles, resulting in unprecedented success. Paragons of ecosystem management embody the following characteristics:

  • Thinks systemically, strategically and contextually
  • Leverages diversity to drive innovation
  • Manages abundance instead of scarcity
  • Acknowledges the ecosystem extends far beyond the physical organization
  • Nurtures interpersonal relationships
  • Designs work to optimize for the employee
  • Engages in lifestyle and experience design
  • Fosters a purpose-centric culture
  • Leverages self-awareness as a source of competitive advantage
  • Promotes a holistic approach to wellness, integrating bio/psycho/social/spiritual components

There is an interconnectedness of all life, from the smallest molecular compound to the largest galaxy, and undoubtedly between every person. Organizations aligned with ecosystem principles will drive innovation through the 21st century and beyond. The choice is yours to make, what metaphor will you choose?

From an early age, the Swiss scientist Max Kleiber had a knack for testing the edges of convention. As an undergraduate in Zurich in the 1910s, he defied the conventions of the day by roaming the streets dressed in sandals and an open collar. After a time in the military, he failed to reappear for duty when he discovered that his superiors had traded information with the Germans, despite the official Swiss position of neutrality in World War I. His actions landed him in jail for several months. When he was released, Kleiber decided that he had had enough of Switzerland. And so he packed his bags and went where sandal-wearing, nonconformist, war protesters go—to California. Kleiber matriculated at the agricultural college in the University of California at Davis. “His research initially focused on cattle, measuring the impact that body size had on their metabolic rates, the speed with which an organism burns through energy. Shortly after his arrival at Davis, Kleiber stumbled across a mysterious pattern in his research, a mathematical oddity that soon brought a much more diverse array of creatures to be measured in his lab: rats, ring doves, pigeons, dogs, even humans. Scientists and animal lovers had long observed that as life gets bigger, it slows down. Flies live for hours or days; elephants live for half-centuries. The hearts of birds and small mammals pump blood much faster than those of giraffes and blue whales. But the relationship between size and speed didn’t seem to be a one to one relationship. A horse might be five hundred times heavier than a rabbit, yet its pulse certainly wasn’t five hundred times slower than the rabbit’s.”[1] After a formidable series of measurements in his Davis lab, Kleiber finally had a working model that could predict the metabolism and heart rate of all animals, based upon one single variable, mass! He found that if you double the size of an animal from 10 lbs. to 20 lbs., 50 lbs. to 100 lbs., it doesn’t matter the size, then you get a 15 percent decrease in metabolism and heart rate.


Amazingly, even though all animals on Earth have evolved in their own unique environments and with diverse evolutionary forces, all animals are constrained to lie on this same line. How can that be? The reason is networks. All animals are made up of cells; all animals are simply networks of cells, and all cellular networks act in the same symbiotic manner, no matter which animal you consider. That is to say, “All of life is controlled by networks — from the intracellular through the multicellular through the ecosystem level.”[4]

Years later, Kleiber’s law spiked the interest of another scientist, Geoffrey West, who was attempting to establish a quantifiable, predictive framework for the growth of cities. He wondered if Kleiber’s law applied not only to networks of cells, but also to networks of people, namely cities. He gathered population data, energy consumption data, infrastructure data, pace-of-life data, etc. on hundreds of cities. When all the numbers were crunched, West found that cities were constrained to the same linear pattern that animals are constrained to. Truly, a network of people benefits from the same economies of scale as a network of cells. This means that a city twice as large as another uses 15 percent less energy and 15 percent less infrastructure per capita. Therefore, if an elephant is just a scaled up mouse, then a city is just a scaled up elephant. Hence, when the mechanic, scientist, entrepreneur, teacher and waiter all specialize and work together, they create a more efficient, symbiotic metropolis. And, the more people that specialize, the more efficient the city.

However, one datapoint of West’s research did not follow this negative linear pattern. West found that innovation (in terms of patents, R&D budgets, “supercreative” professions, and inventors) follows Kleiber’s Law, but in the positive direction. That is to say, if a city is twice as large as another, it is not 15 percent less innovative, but 115% more innovative. This means that a growing network of people within a city will increase the collective capacity of its citizens to innovate.

Innovation through networks

If cities and innovation can be compared, we would assume that West’s Model would allow us to predict, with remarkable accuracy, the future pace of technological change based on a single variable, city growth. To make a prediction, let’s crunch some numbers of our own. According to the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA), world, urban population will grow from its current number of 3.3 billion to 7.1 billion by 2060.[5] That is more than a doubling of world, urban population in 48 years. If we plug this information into West’s Model and assume that the average city more than doubles in size, we would expect to see two-and-a-half times more innovation in 2060 than in 2011.[6] More specifically, one year in 2060 would equal two-and-a-half current years of technological change. While this is interesting, it is hardly impressive. If we look at the current innovation trend data for the United States alone, we find that just in the last 18 years the number of patents granted to US citizens per year has doubled![7] See figure 2.


Current innovative trends already surpass anything that West’s Model might predict about cities. The truth of the matter is that West’s Model fails to predict the progress of innovation over time for the same reason that a city of one million in the year 1800 did not have the same level of innovation as a city of one million in 2011. The reason again is networks, but this time the reason is networks that are independent and run parallel to cities’ networks. This understanding should force us out of our myopic focus on cities as the only significant human network driving innovation and force us to contemplate what other networks are driving the current pace of innovation.

If we broaden our consideration of human networks beyond cities, we find that the most significant networking technology has been the television. When city-growth data and patent data are graphed we find that all the way up until 1960, American megacity growth[9] predicts 99% of the variation of patents granted per year. However, after 1960 we find that population data does not accurately predict the pace of innovation. See figure 3.


However, after 1960 we find that population data does not accurately predict the pace of innovation. (see Figure 4)

Innovation through networks

At the same time that population no longer predicts the pace of innovation, we see the emergence of the television as a popular medium. By 1950 only 9 percent of American households had televisions. However, by 1959 that figure had increased to 85.9 percent.[14] As we see in Figure 4, the pace of innovation after 1960 skyrockets. In truth, this should come as no surprise. Even at its birth, people understood the enormous networking possibilities of television. On April 9, 1927 when Bell Telephones conducted the first long distance use of television, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover commented, “Today we have, in a sense, the transmission of sight for the first time in the world’s history. Human genius has now destroyed the impediment of distance in a new respect, and in a manner hitherto unknown.” That day in 1927, Hoover had no way to know the prescience of his statement decades before it would change the course of innovation. From 1960 forward, the television introduced us to diverse ideas and captured the imagination of the world in a way that was more physical and unifying than ever before. For example, on July 20, 1969 the world witnessed the first and only manned, lunar landing. On that day 500 million people, three-quarters of which were not Americans, had one of the most memorable days of their life, simultaneously. They felt small and big all that the same time. They viewed our Earth as a small globe whirling around a far larger speck of light. That day the minds of philosophers, scientists, men of faith, men of power, story tellers, and poets united to contemplate the same questions, ‘What is out there? What is our place amongst these other specks of light that shine in the darkness of the night?’ In a way, all 500 million worldwide viewers became philosophers, if only for a moment. No other technology, before that time, was capable of uniting humanity in the way that television did that day. It was a proud day that unleashed our collective creativity, not just for Houston or for the United States, but for all of humanity.

As we begin to understand that human networks span beyond the city, we must consider that from the first constructed roads in 4000 BC in the city of Ur to the popularization of the internet in 1982 (see Figure 2), the human genius has destroyed the impediment of distance. And going forward, we will see the impediment of distance razed to the ground as we continue to build and strengthen worldwide networks. By understanding that all of life and all human networks follow the same networking patterns, we can conclude that if a city is just a scaled up elephant then television and the internet are just scaled up cities, and West’s Model can still help us predict the pace of innovation. Thus, if we compare Facebook with an active user population of 900 million to the population of the most innovative and largest city in the world, Tokyo, with a population of 34.5 million[15] we can infer that Facebook has the potential to be 59 times more innovative than Tokyo.[16] It doesn’t end there. If the internet were to reach every person in the world by 2060 and a worldwide network became possible, this network has the potential to be 1,100 times more innovative than Tokyo.[17] That certainly beats the 2.5 multiple increase over 48 years that West’s Model predicted when limiting human networks to cities.

The internet is truly our greatest tool to build a worldwide network; however, it should not be and is not the summit of our networking potential. The internet currently lacks the ability to fully involve all of our human senses in a worldwide network in the same way that the radio and telephone lacked what television had to offer. Relationships on the internet continue to feel superficial. Moreover, we cannot touch, smell, and taste on the internet. This lack of connection leaves us desiring more. However, that impediment can and will be overcome.  Our global, human network will become more meaningful, and the pace of innovation will exponentially increase. One need only pick up an issue of Popular Science to begin to envision the deep connections that will make up our worldwide network in the future. Computer screens as thin as wallpaper[18] and as cheap as a television will one day cover our walls, allowing us to sit in the same room with people thousands of miles away. Combined with simulated-texture technology, we will not only sit in the room together, but we will be able to reach out and touch that person. While a computer may never be able to fully simulate the feeling of a hug, it may not need to. Instead, technology will in the near future bring the computer screen to you instead of you to the computer screen, thereby enhancing our physical connections through augmented reality. Computer screens that fit on a contact lens will allow you to facially recognize strangers in the street and receive biographic information about them. Augmented reality lenses will enhance, enliven, and deepen our interactions. Imagine playing video games with friends in the backyard and interacting with characters as if they are in the real world. Imagine attending concerts, conventions, and tradeshows within a 3-D environment. Imagine training to be a mechanic and when you look at an engine, 3-D specs are displayed on top of it telling you what to fix and how to fix it. Once your imagination gets going, it’s difficult to imagine experiences in our life that cannot be deepened and broadened with augmented reality. According to Google, even our romantic relationships will be deepened. Google’s new commercial[19] for its soon-to-be-released augmented reality glasses, depicts a man performing a sunset serenade for his girlfriend as she sits at her home computer. Now, what could be deeper than that (tongue in cheek)?

While near-term technological possibilities are still lacking, the fact of the matter is that worldwide networks are deepening and broadening and creating a global consciousness that was not previously there. The more we continue to network, the more symbiotic our actions will be, and the more we will benefit from one another. In sum, these worldwide networks will be the engine that drives us to unthinkable, innovative possibilities—all thanks to West’s Law.

Dialog’s Network


[1] Johnson, Steven (2010-10-05). Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (p. 58). Penguin Group.
[2] At a more complex level, if an animal is 1,000 times heavier, then its metabolism, and heart rate are 5.6 times slower ( ).
[3] West, Geoffrey (2011-07-XX)
[4] West, Geoffrey (2011-07-XX)
[5] United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) (2007-XX-XX) “State of World Population 2007.” (p. 6)
[6]  times more innovation
[7] the number of patents granted to citizens in 2011 in the U.S. (120,690) is two times greater than the number of patents granted in 1993 (60,883).
[8] Patents:
[9] Megacity growth = the growth in population of the ten largest US cities
[10] Megacity populations:
[11] US Population:
[12] Patents:
[13] Patents:
[16]  times more innovative
[17]  times more innovative