“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

The future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.
William Gibson

Next time you visit the beach, walk out to where water meets sand. Then venture a little farther, feeling the waves crash at your feet. Some are large, slow, and come one at a time – others are more frenetic. It doesn’t matter where the wave started or how long it’s been rolling, you’re still standing there getting wet, trying to guess what happens next.

We often don’t know a single wave of change has ended until the next one hits us. This means we operate both inside and in between. This is history. This is destiny. It never ends.

If evolution is the rule, we know one thing: we’re moving one way.  Don’t mistake micro exceptions for macro truths, we continuously evolve in a single direction. Using a network lens to zoom out, we can see five distinct waves.


As one wave gives way to another, we continuously evolve from survival to contemplation, from scarcity to abundance. Progress doesn’t mean challenges disappear, only that we now have the tools and expertise to out evolve them, to anticipate them, to leap past them. Not just surviving, but rising.

Digital is a layer – the network is the whole

The shift from industrial to information was still essentially mechanical – digital is an extension of that change, with new machines and methodologies. It’s been information that’s made all the difference, the rise of an ultravaluable new currency alongside new economies driven by intangible assets and ecosystem-level relationships. This is the network age.

The end of history?

While we can’t say the network age is the end of change, we know that it will forever be a lens that comes next, giving us an adaptive framework for managing whatever complexity comes next.

The only thing certain about the next wave is that it’s coming. It’s not a cry for chicken-littleism, but a call to return to the lessons we can learn from natural evolving systems, about resilience and recovery and always designing to orchestrate rather than control.

That’s why surviving this wave and the next isn’t about strength or dexterity or prescience, but an orchestration mindset that leverages all three.

A new speed for the economy, too.

It’s also urgently worth noting that change is coming faster and waves are getting briefer and briefer. This makes leadership even more precious and precarious – it doesn’t last long. It’s not just your imagination, the ground is shifting below our feet. We only need to look to the S&P 500, where patterns of dominance and incumbency are being rapidly replaced through disruption.

Recorded Projected S&P Lifespan in Years

It’s also no coincidence that the math of network business models is amazing as well, yielding win-win-win ecosystems that outperform traditional models in valuation.1

We know that change is ceaseless. Whether it seems faster, deeper, or more dynamic, it’s the same complexity in action. That’s why we say forget answers – buy process.  Ultimately, we’re not looking to survive the next wave, we intend to jump it completely. Network tools give us the scale and simplicity to do it.

Ready to jump?

Learn more about how we’re reshaping everything from agriculture to behavioral health with network lenses and levers.


1 Libert, 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.

The struggle to achieve long-term innovation isn’t about new technologies, but a new framework for identifying challenges and illuminating paths forward.  This is especially true for those working on the front lines of mental health, where an overwhelming demand for services often means providers are too busy meeting today’s needs to conceive of a different way of embracing and empowering an uncertain future.

MHCA is committed to bringing mental health experts and advocates together in the interest of finding this space for innovation.  This means not just new ways of serving patients and communities, but new ways of creating the revenue and relationships required for long-term, sustainable success. It’s another strategic and operational challenge that can be illuminated through network thinking and design.

That’s why our CEO Mark Thompson was invited to address MHCA’s Fall 2018 conference here in Austin.  His Medicaid is Not A Business Model speech explores how providers can adopt lessons learned from network science and design.  This includes adjacent innovation (the magic of peanut butter and chocolate!), the power of adaptive leadership, and what exactly AI can show us about the future of mental health innovation as a mission and a business model.

Best of luck to Mark and the rest of MHCA — this is a critical cause and we’re honored to be a part of the collaboration.

A vital lifeline at risk

Dialog CEO Mark Thompson will be attending Georgia Association of Community Service Board’s annual Education Exchange next week, speaking on the foundational power of adaptive growth and resilience strategies.  GACSB represents a coalition of community associations responsible for delivering services to Georgians (and their families) coping with the challenges of mental health, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and addictive diseases.

Like most providers of behavioral health services, especially in at-risk communities, the GACSB faces an uphill challenge.  As demand for services rise, public investments can’t keep pace, putting the future of many associations at risk.  If these critical lifelines fail, the impact on the state would be a long-term disaster.

What the GACSB lacks in resources they make up for in grit.  They’re committed to fostering collaboration across the state, between local communities and private and public sector partners, working to find solutions that improve access to critical behavioral health help.  Unfortunately, as with many systemic crises, determination isn’t always enough – a new strategic plan and perspective is required for long-term success.

Leveraging network design to boost growth and resilience

The challenges of sustainability and innovation make behavioral health an ideal application of network design thinking, especially when dealing with adaptive challenges.  Nonadaptive challenges typically involve a problem  of scale, whereas adaptive challenges are marked by change and uncertainty.  Adaptive challenges don’t just leave us without answers – their very nature sometimes makes it impossible to know where the questions even start.

  • The GACSB represents a disparate set of associations working to tackle universal challenges with meaningful local variants that are constantly in motion. Adaptive leadership is focused on growth in the face of uncertainty through best practices and processes that scale.
  • The GACSB advocates for professionals and organizations that are overworked and underpaid, so locked into a struggle for survival there’s no space for innovation or collaboration. As in nature, an adaptive network approach unlocks meaningful, and sometimes surprising innovation.
  • The GACSB is working to navigate rapidly shifting market and regulatory demands that put missions and business models at risk. Adaptive resilience ensures organizations are built lean but not brittle, agile while still impactful.  More importantly, it helps people and teams nurture their own energy while remaining connected to the core principles that guide their work.

We’re looking forward to learning more about the challenges of behavioral health care service providers working to serve communities across Georgia.

More to come

To learn more about what we do at Dialog, follow us here and on LinkedIn and Twitter to learn more.

An obligation and an opportunity – a national moment on behavioral health

We spend a lot of hours at Dialog working to create an inflection point in the growth curve of some of the world’s best brands. But one of the areas in our work that we are most excited about is the potential in behavioral health.

In a world of such abundance, by any measure, we are failing. 

If you suffer from a mental illness or behavioral health challenge in this country, there’s a nearly 50% chance you’re not currently being treated. This, despite the fact that we know the incalculable cost it has on personal lives and the future of communities as a whole.

The challenges to the system are overwhelming. Demographic changes are driving demand in both volume and complexity, even as budgets are flat or declining. On the business side, market and regulatory expectations are consistently in flux, creating substantial risk and erecting barrier after barrier to innovation.

This means that despite a rush of innovation, digital or otherwise, behavioral health needs continue to largely languish untouched  by the new ideas and efficiencies so necessary to success. And sadly, it ensures those most in need will continue to have less access and fewer choices.

Empathy and access: a widening gap

Sadly, rather than respond with a well-funded, integrated behavioral care framework, the task is left to an uneven patchwork of private and public providers working to give people and population consistent access to quality behavioral health services. And, as needs grow and dollars decline, it’s these front-line experts and advocates that make the critical difference to the lives of those who suffer and the families and communities who share these burdens. Without their dedication, the fight would have been lost long ago.

But, even in the face of these dramatic shortfalls, something is in motion. Even as organizations struggle to adapt and evolve, the narratives at the edge are changing. The stories of suffering and triumph are moving from the shadows into the mainstream, even as stigma persists. We are becoming more confident and compassionate in our ability to talk about choices and challenges as people and communities.

An inescapable national moment

Two rising American political stars help make this point. One, Republican senator Ben Sasse, has written a New York Times best seller that, in part, establishes loneliness and disconnection as a critical comorbidity that aggravates a host of chronic conditions and impacts longevity more than smoking and heart disease.

Given the traditional (and perhaps stereotypical) Republican focus on bootstraps and forbearance, Sasse’s advocacy for richer socioemotional lives can be seen as a bellwether (even if his votes don’t always bear it out).

Across the aisle, Texas senatorial hopeful Beto O’ Rourke makes cost savings an integral part of his call for community mental health investments. O’Rourke has made the issue a staple in his many stump speeches, highlighting the enormous cost of delivering mental health services through the state’s current largest provider: county jails.

Like Sasse, O’Rourke works partially against brand, focusing both on community need but also on cost sustainability. It’s another sign of healthy, honest, articulate discussions about something that matters.

These discussions in Texas and Nebraska are merely the high-profile public face of something that’s been happening for a while. Whether Sasse’s advocacy pays off in legislation or Beto makes the Senate, the conversation is shifting. Even in a bitterly divided Washington, both sides united to pass a bill to combat the opioid epidemic with a stunning 98-to-1 majority.

A complex challenge demanding a collaborative approach to innovation

If we have indeed achieved real momentum on the issue, the next task is helping illuminate a path forward. Ultimately, success is best achieved through a framework that empowers resource-constrained communities and providers to collaborate in meaningful new ways. A foundational strategy that integrates digital, clinical and personal engagement solutions in pursuit of better outcomes.

We have long been proponents of the power of a form of systems thinking we call network design.  We’ve been lucky enough to use the art and science of network thinking to help clients in diverse industries from engineering to agriculture. But if ever there was a challenge that seems custom-built network design tools and thinking, it’s behavioral health. Specifically, network design lets us:

  • Fully map the complexity of the challenge, identifying stakeholders and measuring relationships
  • Better understand what incentivizes behavior and influences decision-making for consumers, patients, payors, providers and advocates
  • Design win-win relationships that elevate people, organizations and communities
  • Optimize organizations for maximum innovation, resilience and growth

We’ve seen what network thinking can do in other industries, and we’re positive it can make an enormous contribution here as well.

A personal cause and passion

We don’t just come to behavioral health with a different set of tools and talents. Like every family and community in the world, our lives are shaped by the mental and behavioral health challenges of those we love. That’s why we’re committed to bringing network design to the fight: to enable an integrated, innovative approach to healing the whole people and populations.

We believe ultimately that getting mental and behavioral health right will not only lift the lives of millions, but create new opportunities for creativity and collaboration inside a market that will only continue to grow in both size and complexity.

More to come

We’ll be talking a lot about the power of network design in healthcare. Follow us here and on LinkedIn and Twitter to learn more.

Why did you decide to go into this bar and not that bar?

On this question may depend the future of AI, and perhaps humanity. By posing it, AI researchers shift artificial intelligence from the source of convenient robot helpers to the thing that unlocks humans’ limitless potential.

Or so we thought after our conversation with lead researcher Jeff Clune of the Evolving AI Lab. We sought out an unorthodox AI pioneer, and Clune did not disappoint. He’s at the leading edge of his field if you go by such things as his output of published papers. We don’t go by that, though. Clune stands out because he is trying to teach robots not so much consciousness as sub-consciousness; and he wants to teach that sub-consciousness to evolve, just like ours did.

Of course, our choice of what bar to go into typically, at least for most people, emerges from the subconscious. Clune points out it’s hard to say afterwards why we chose one after the other. Why is this so important for AI?

Well, if Clune has his way, the evolution of the robot mind will eventually produce a robot subconscious: they will interact socially, away from us; they will desire to play; they will be curious, and generate art, and solve complex problems the way we do. Not so much through rational heavy-lifting, but through that spark of insight, the one they have in the robot-shower, that tells them the answer lies in one direction and not the other. Robots will have serendipity and produce novelty.

For humans, novelty is way more important than efficiency. In the future, our milk carton will order more milk when it’s empty, and have it delivered. That most certainly will not change humanity. What will is robots that ask different questions than we do; robots that surprise us with their creativity and spark; robots that help us see the world in a completely different way. Those are the robots Clune is creating the foundation for. We were fascinated to hear how an AI researcher may influence the course of our future. We think you will too.

To learn how Dialog can help your business, contact us at 512.697.9425 or LetsChat@DialogGroup.com.

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

In America $75,000 per year buys happiness. That is to say that before $75,000 there is a direct correlation between money and happiness; yet, money in excess of $75,000 does not bring additional happiness.[1] Even more fascinating is how Americans spend their money. The typical American uses 75 to 80 percent of his/her income to fulfill basic needs such as water, food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, and education, while those in developing countries spend well over 90 percent on basic needs. [2] One effect of this trend shows up in American nutrition. The entire focus of nutrition in this country has changed from making sure Americans get enough calories to ensuring that Americans do not consume empty calories. The most malnourished zones of the United States are those same places where obesity is rampant.  While this is unfortunate in many respects, the epidemic of obesity also signifies a landmark in our collective level of abundance. Furthermore, the 15% of our income that is discretionary goes a lot further than it ever did before. “Twenty years ago, every household owned a camera, a video camera, a CD player, a stereo, a video game console, a cell phone, a watch, an alarm clock, a set of encyclopedias, a world atlas, a Thomas Guide, and a whole bunch of other assets that easily added up to more than $10,000. Now, all of that comes standard on today’s smartphone, or can be purchased at the app store for less than $10.”[3]

There is no debate that our world is changing rapidly and that our level of abundance is increasing exponentially, but it is less obvious that our increasing level of abundance is changing our motivations as well, in a way that will transform management in the 21st century. To understand how our motivations are transforming, imagine for a moment that a generous billionaire gives you enough money to meet all of your monetary needs for the rest of your life. You are so excited that you take a two-year vacation to travel the world and celebrate. Now, take a moment, or an hour, to think of what you would do with the rest of your life? Many people respond that they would change very little or nothing about their lives. Other people imagine starting an organization to serve society. Most telling of all is that no one answers, “nothing.”[4] In the future, advances in agriculture, renewable energy, water filtration, robotics, education, and healthcare will allow hundreds of millions of Americans to fully consider this question and, most importantly, to act upon it. The consideration of this one question is transforming our collective motivation and the world we live in and will continue to do so throughout the 21st century.

Half a century ago, when psychology was mainly focused on fixing pathological problems, Abraham Maslow decided instead to study the lives of successful and self-fulfilled individuals; e.g., Albert Einstein, Fredrick Douglass, and Eleanor Roosevelt. He observed that only after an individual’s lower-level needs are satisfied can he/she focus on higher needs. For example, if a man spends the majority of his days hunting for his family’s next meal, he will see very little value in pursuing an education or preserving the environment. The need for food suppresses his higher needs. What’s more, Maslow’s Hierarchy shows us that when people’s lower-level needs are met, as is the case today in America, they focus their attention more on social, esteem and personal mastery needs; i.e., friendships, family, social, community and religious groups. They seek respect, pursue hobbies, try to make a difference in the world, and are driven by autonomy, mastery, and a higher purpose, and our changing motivations are changing the world around us. One notable change are the perplexing economic defeats of recent years: Wikipedia’s defeat of Encarta and Firefox’s defeat of Internet Explorer. Additionally, the fact that the free open-source operating system, Linux, runs one-quarter of all corporate servers, and Apache, the free open-source Web server software, runs half of all corporate Web servers is baffling because the incentive model suggests that such results shouldn’t even be possible. [5]  Why would well-paid professionals that already have jobs spend their personal time on voluntary projects for free? And, how are these products competing with corporate funded products, and winning? The answer is that this is the result of a transformation in our collective motivation. We are entering a realm of abundance that is yielding perplexing motivations and perplexing economic results.

In the 21st century, the commoditization of scale will move our society further up Maslow’s Hierarchy and will pose a threat to traditional corporate management. The benefits of scale are not going away; instead, the benefits of scale are being commoditized. “In today’s world, you don’t need to have scale to enjoy scale.” [6] The commoditization of scale was recently summarized in a Popular Science article by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler in an article called The New Age of Invention:

Amateur scientists and inventors now have access to tools exponentially more powerful and affordable than those a generation ago. They can transform ideas into physical products in a matter of days. And they can directly distribute those innovations—whether a new engine or an entirely new form of life—to a market of billions…DIY scientists and inventors are now using increasingly powerful tools to tackle challenges once reserved for governments and large corporations. They are delving into robotics, bioengineering, nanotechnology, manufacturing and aerospace design in the same way that hot-rodders in the 1950s remade their cars piece by painstaking piece. They are building unmanned aerial vehicles in their garages and creating customized life forms in their kitchens…More than two billion people are connected to the Web, and nearly any one of them can access most of the same sources a well-funded researcher can. They can receive expert advice on just about anything and outsource any job beyond their ken into a global supply chain of coders, developers, designers and parts manufacturers.” [7]

The most impressive member of this new do-it-yourself (DIY) generation is the 14-year-old boy, Taylor Wilson. He recently became the youngest person to achieve nuclear fusion, and he did it in his own garage.[8] We are truly entering a new age where DIY inventors are no longer reliant on powerful corporations to fulfill their passions, and this is creating a volatile economy for large corporations. According to the BCG article Adaptive Advantage, “The once strong correlation between profitability and industry share has now almost disappeared in some sectors…The probability that the market share leader is also the profitability leader declined from 34 percent in 1950 to just 7 percent in 2007.[9] Large firms can no longer rely on being the biggest as a strategic advantage. In the 21st century, even the largest corporations will need to develop a difficult to replicate, persuasive strategy that assumes that everyone has the same advantages of scale.[10]

In the 21st century, corporations will need to adjust to a new type of employee. In the future, the ubiquity of robotic, bioengineering, nanotech, manufacturing and aerospace technologies will have a greater effect on coming generations that the ubiquity of the camera had on this generation and that the ubiquity of the automobile had on hot-rodders in earlier generations. In the case of photography, advances in still and video photography and studio and editing software demonetized film and made it ubiquitous. As a result, a generation of DIY photographers and videographers emerged. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube have become their playground. A quick visit to any of these websites will give you a glimpse as to how ubiquitous, demonetized technologies in robotics, bioengineering, nanotech, manufacturing and aerospace will transform the capabilities and motivations of generations to come. Another way of putting it is this: In the 21st century, businesses must consider how they will manage generations of Bill Gateses, Henry Fords, Wright Brothers, Benjamin Franklins, Walt Disneys, and Charles Darwins because the new DIY generation will enjoy the level of abundance and the wide-array of cross-disciplinary hobbies that these men did. Walt Disney, for example, spent his free time building model trains, steam engines, drawing and animating, dancing, acting, and performing comedy. The Wright Brothers spent their free time bicycling, repairing bicycles, hang gliding, running a newspaper print shop, and designing their own printing press before ever pursuing their aeronautic ambitions. And, Charles Darwin spent his free time studying coral reefs, breeding pigeons, performing elaborate taxonomical studies of beetles and barnacles. He wrote papers on the geology of South America and spent years researching the impact of earthworms on the soil.[11] Generations of DIYers are following their passions just as these men did without the help of large corporations, venture capital firms, or banks. In 2011, the social fundraising website Kickstarter.com had over 30 million visitors, launched 27,086 creative projects and product ideas, hit a milestone of 1 million pledgers, and received almost $100 million in pledges. To put this into perspective, the 2011 fiscal budget for the National Endowment for the Arts is $154 million. [12] The undeniable fact is that Americans are less dependent on large corporations to fulfill their passions. In the 21st century, corporations will find it difficult to motivate the latest generations of workers with 20th century incentive systems. In fact this is already happening. Stories of high potential employees with low engagement at work are the norm in the corporate world, sparking the success of sitcoms like “The Office”. The Corporate Executive Board reported in 2010 that high-potential employees are increasingly disengaged and seeking new career opportunities. Some 25 percent plan to leave their current employers in the next year compared to 10 percent in 2006. About one in five identify themselves as ‘highly disengaged’–a three-fold increase since 2007.[13] As Americans become less and less dependent on large corporations to meet their needs and fulfill their passions, Americans are becoming less satisfied with corporate management techniques. In the 21st century, corporate management will be forced to align with Maslovian principles. While this transition will prove difficult and messy for businesses, one thing remains clear: those who do not change will be left in the 20th century.

The most innovative organizations are already developing a strategy beyond scale that appeals to a new kind of employee with impressive cross-disciplinary capabilities and complex motivations. Take Google for example: early on in Google’s history, it developed a program called Innovation Time Off. For every four hours engineers spend on official company projects, they are expected to spend one hour on their own pet project. According to Google’s Vice President Marissa Mayer, Innovation Time Off has led to 50 percent of all Google’s new products.[14] Another example of 21st century management involves the most awarded car manufacturer in the world, Toyota. At Toyota, every employee is required to spend hours per week as an analyst and problem solver individually and jointly improving Toyota’s manufacturing and business processes in a system that has been best described by the organizational theory expert Paul Adler as Democratic Taylorism. [15] Toyota’s bureaucracy enables every employee with the tools and authority to make the improvements that drive Toyota’s quality and success. Another example of 21st century management comes from a company that is consistently ranked as the most innovative in the world—Apple. Steven Jobs explained what makes Apple so innovative by describing why concept cars look so amazing, and yet, the final design usually looks so “blah”. The traditional production model, he explained, is a linear system where designers come up with a dazzling and innovative design for a car. At that point, the design is handed off to the engineers who figure that they can make the car with 70% of what the designers asked for. Then, they pass their engineering designs off to manufacturers who determine that they can do some of what the engineers asked for. Five years later, the original design has been watered down and the product released to the public looks almost identical to last year’s model. In contrast to the Linear Production Model, Apple has developed a Concurrent Production Model. At Apple, designers, engineers, manufacturers, and salespeople are expected to spend hours of their time working together to ensure that the product that is manufactured matches the original design of the product. This cross-disciplinary cooperation leads to the invention of new engineering and manufacturing techniques that adapt manufacturing to the original product design and not the other way around.[16] The process is time consuming and, just like Innovation Time Off, appears inefficient, but the results speak for themselves.[17] Beyond the corporate world, the MIT Human Dynamics Laboratory is rewriting the laws of business success in the same way that the Wright Brothers rewrote the physical laws governing flight. MIT researchers have invented an instrument called the Sociometric Badge, which is worn around the neck of test subjects like a name tag. The Sociometric Badge tracks the proximity, location, face-to-face interactions, and social signals of the wearer, but not her words. With only the information collected by the Sociometric Badge, researchers can predict the, with 89% accuracy, the success or failure of a business team and its hard-dollar productivity.[18] Even more importantly, the MIT research has the ability to change behavior and drive performance. For example, MIT researchers were able to make recommendations to Bank of America’s call center that saved $15 million per year at $0 cost.[19] In the same way that rewriting the laws of flight revolutionized the human capacity for flight, data analytics will revolutionize our capacity to produce business success. The innovative techniques that have been developed by Google, Toyota, and Apple are only the beginning. The more we apply data analytics and ingenuity to organizational design, the exponentially faster management will transform and the more necessary it will be for managers and companies to keep up.

The start of the 21st century will be a confusing place for most companies and managers. Scale will continue to be commoditized, employees will possess a multitude of cross-disciplinary skills, Maslovian Management will be the key to engagement, and innovation will be king in all industries. As the famed Management Guru Fredrick Herzberg put it, “money and benefits are simply hygiene factors.” “Good benefits and pay help keep people in a job, but more and more hygiene factors do not make people work harder. If you really want to motivate people, you have to go beyond hygiene factors and enrich jobs so that they are intrinsically motivating.” [20]  People need to be able to pursue mastery in a variety of disciplines, they need a degree of autonomy to pursue cross-disciplinary connections, and they need to feel as though they are part of a community that is contributing and giving back to the world. Those businesses that figure out how to do that for the current and coming generations of DIYers will be the businesses that will innovate and thrive in the 21st century.


[1] Kotler, Steven; Diamandis, Peter H. (2012-02-21). Abundance (Kindle Locations 4401-4404). Simon & Schuster, Inc.
[3] Kotler, Steven; Diamandis, Peter H. (2012-02-21). Abundance (Kindle Location 4406). Simon & Schuster, Inc.
[4] Kofman, Fred (2007-05-01). Conscious Business (p. 83). Sounds True.
[5] Pink, Daniel H. (2011-04-05). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (p. 22). Penguin Group.
[9] Reeves, Martin ; Deimler, Michael S. (2012-01-25). “Adaptive Advantage: Winning Strategies for Uncertain Times” (Kindle Locations 66-67). The Boston Consulting Group, Inc.
[11] Johnson, Steven (2010-10-05). Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (p. 171). Penguin Group.
[14] Johnson, Steven (2010-10-05). Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (p. 94). Penguin Group.
[15] Liker, Jeffrey (2003-12-17). The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer (Kindle Location 3021). McGraw-Hill.
[17] Johnson, Steven (2010-10-05). Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (p. 171). Penguin Group.
[20] Liker, Jeffrey (2003-12-17). The Toyota Way : 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer (Kindle Location 3927). McGraw-Hill.

We are all to varying degrees prisoners of our metaphors. This is true in both our heads and when we communicate with others. And it’s definitely true in business. Depending on your industry, any number of metaphors can guide the acquisition of new capabilities. However, there is one global metaphor shift that will help you and your organization succeed in the Network Age, and that is shifting from a mechanical to an organic worldview – from a view of your business as a machine to an actual living ecosystem.

In the last few decades, the predominant metaphor has shifted in nearly every one of the sciences from mechanistic to organic. Some scientists have even posited that the universe itself may essentially be a living, complex organism. So it’s just time business updated its metaphor as well.

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.

Frederick Taylor, the pioneer of industrial age management, used his stopwatch to measure the motions of people as parts in a machine. This was the machinery of the Industrial Age, and make no bones about it, this reductionist approach yielded unprecedented gains in productivity and material wealth.

It seemed rational to treat people like parts in a machine when the way that you unleashed productivity was by putting people into factories. Those factories required huge outlays in capital. It therefore made sense to make decisions around the binding constraint on growth – capital itself. Measures like return on equity and the DuPont formula arose to facilitate rationing of capital and ensure its application to highest return opportunities.

Is ROE Capitalism’s “Runaway”?

The cornerstone of the Industrial Age business measurement system was ROE. Several years ago the Harvard Business Review published an article entitled Runaway Capitalism. A “runaway” in evolutionary terms is when natural selection and sexual selection become decoupled, as in the case of the peacock’s tail. The tail offers such evolutionary disadvantage that peacocks would be extinct were it not for the fact that humans like to collect them. Yet peahens are drawn to the tail, so it continues to be selected for by the species even though the natural environment does not support it. The author’s point was that ROE may be capitalism’s runaway. And the implication is that it may threaten the continued survival of the planet and the species.

The Challenges of a Machine Metaphor

If the above is true, then perhaps the biggest challenge presented by machine management is the belief that everything should myopically serve the machine. And that one number, ROE, represents “the One Ring to rule them all” in the machine metaphor.

Other challenges with the machine metaphor include the fact that it stifles initiative. 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 business that is run solely as a machine is not adaptive. It is too cumbersome and slow and fails to consider externalities. It isn’t designed for emergence. Or as Carolyn Hendrickson, a Ph.D. in organization design quipped, “Why don’t matrix organizations work? Because the mind that designs the matrix is not the mind that inhabits it.”

One of the challenges of a machine metaphor is that we tend to apply it to ourselves when increasingly network scientists are showing us that we are ourselves the products of the networks we engage in.

Despite these problems with machine view, there are new perspectives that can include it in a new larger whole – that of the complex ecosystem.

The Power of a New Metaphor: The Complex Ecosystem
Modern organizations are composed of complex living systems or networks. The metaphor of an ecosystem implies we are part of a community of living organisms, intertwined with nonliving components like technology, all interacting as a system.

This boundless system goes far beyond the physical boundaries of the firm and includes psychosocial characteristics as well as the material elements of our supply chain. It also includes the emergent outcomes of local agents acting upon very simple rules (which is why a rigid three-year plan won’t work). In order to compete and stay relevant, we need to stop managing what we think of as static machines and start nurturing our boundless dynamic ecosystems. Some principles for a networked ecosystem design could include the following:

1. Think like a Gardener: assemble, shape, influence, enable and nurture.

Recognize that some problems like the “diabesity” crisis cannot be directly solved. For certain classes of problems what scientist call “wicked problems” we must focus on building capabilities for solutions rather than solutions themselves.

2. Start with Purpose. Purpose has been proven to be the factor that enables firms to outperform their contemporaries over extended periods of time. Purpose is the first step in our “strength from the inside out” methodology of ecosystem design and orchestration. Purpose gives a network energy, and it is a natural north star. The HP Way offers a classic example of purpose as an ecosystem design principle. It is as much a set of values that provides the basis for how people in the ecosystem will treat each other as it is an explicit statement of what the ecosystem is designed to accomplish. In complex networks, it is simple rules acted on at the local level that create the network experience. In a business ecosystem, these values act as simple rules that guide the behaviors of decision-makers locally and empower change at the network level. Strategy in the network age is about communication flows and the incentives and relationships driving them. In times of change and uncertainty, values and purpose can provide the DNA for a network structure by enabling communication flows and aligning intellectual, human and social capital.

3. Design for the Whole. Tim Cook tells the story of coming to Apple for the opportunity to work at the seams between hardware, software and communications because in his words “that’s where the magic lies”. Leaders who are network designers and ecosystem enablers know that the value you capture cannot exceed the value your ecosystem creates. In this sense, Michael Porter was wrong: There aren’t five forces, only one. In nature, waste equals food. Likewise in business, in the strongest ecosystems, the parts feed each other. Disney’s ecosystem is a great example of a synergistic or integrated business ecosystem in which one innovation feeds the others. When a new Pirates of the Caribbean comes out, for example, the studios make money, the theme park gets a new ride, the franchises sell toys, the brand sells licensing agreements, and each of these entities benefits because the network is designed so that novelty within one part brings activity to the others. In working with clients across industries, we have found there is opportunity to have outsized share of voice and corresponding share gains by helping to solving larger pressing ecosystem problems even if you are not an ecosystem creator like Apple or Disney.  On a more modest scale, taking the bigger view allows one to mobilize resources from complementary providers and other stakeholders.

4. Consider the Parts when Designing the Whole. It is widely known that businesses increasingly win on experience. Increasingly, companies compete by creating platforms upon which customers co-create and it is therefore nearly impossible to separate the network experience from the user experience. It is also the case that we are increasingly a cyborg network now. The best chess teams in the world are currently centaurs—half man, half machine. How are you using to technology to augment your team’s abilities? And do you understand all the facets of your network experience?

5. Make your People Network Designers. Empower everyone at your company to understand and shape network behaviors in short, to design for emergence, because as Churchill said, “We shape our buildings initially. Thereafter, they shape us.” The same is true of our social structures.

To learn how Dialog can help your business, contact us at 512.697.9425 or LetsChat@DialogGroup.com.

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

The holidays are here so it’s time for us to jump on the bandwagon with a friendly PSA: If you go and buy that giant inflatable snowman to keep up with the Joneses, you’re playing into positive feedback loops, and before you do that you should know that nature abhors stagnation. I don’t mean to be a shit, but positive feedback loops are destructive like sneaky, malicious hurricanes and that’s bad news for you unless you’ve got something you want destroyed.


Now, there’s a time and place for creative destruction and weirdly enough network science can help you find it. Hang on a minute and I’ll illustrate.

When I was fifteen my English lit teacher gave me this really old copy of Main Street. It wasn’t the best book I ever read but it really got down on the physiognomy of boredom. Through his tale of Carol Milford, a cosmopolitan young woman who moves to a small town with her new husband, Sinclair Lewis meticulously unpacked the pathology of sameness as a slow, painful killer of culture and community. The story went boldly into the beige, laying bare the domestic misery that it seemed to my teenage self everyone was ignoring. I was repulsed and impressed. I remember climbing onto the roof of my suburban house gasping for fresh air, wondering, “How small can people really make their worlds?”

Pretty small, it turns out.

Fourteen years later (a Saturn cycle! the astrologer says, as if everyone should purse their lips and nod their heads), and I’m sitting in couple’s therapy with my (now ex) husband. What’s that hanging over the counselor’s desk? Why, a familiar illustration from a limited edition first printing of Main Street.

So now I’m paying attention.

On the other side of divorce I became fascinated by the psychology of boredom. Whose fault is the unhappiness that results? Should you blame circumstances or yourself? The small town, or your own resistance to conformity (a cultural positive feedback loop)? Is there a link between boredom and intelligence?  On the other side of the same coin is curiosity, which does have a link to intelligence. Studies show that a tendency to report frequent feelings of boredom, a trait scarily prevalent among people with narcissistic personality disorder, may be a function of the quality of one’s self-awareness. Boredom tendencies run higher in individuals with lower absorption (a measure of attention span–no surprise there) and in individuals with negative self-awareness tending toward evaluation and judgment. No wonder narcissists, who constantly seek external means of self-validation, are notoriously whiny about their listlessness. Boredom is something we all experience at one time or another, and it may have an important evolutionary function: inciting experiences of pattern interruption. But before it does that it can make you stupid and dull. Temporarily.

In his article “The Surprising Power of an Uncomfortable Brain,” Garth Sundem, author of Beyond IQ and Your Daily Brain, illustrates with friendly snark that “a brain shocked from its easy complacency functions better than a brain kicking along on autopilot,” whereas the repetition of familiar situations can lull your brain “zombie-like into the halls of mindless consumption.” In his article, Sundem sources several cognitive research experiments showing that people whose brains encountered situations where expectations and reality were mismatched performed better on cognitive tests because their brains switched from associative to rule-based systematic processing. The English: encountering the unexpected wakes up your brain. Anything that enforces “cultural dysfluency” should do the trick. Including culture shock. So while the culture shock of moving to a new town may be temporarily invigorating, the newness eventually wears off and the sameness can be stifling, prompting a person to seek new forms of pattern interruption.

So let’s assume you’re Carol Milford of Main Street and you want to look at boredom as a function of your network:

Depending on your own biases you may think people are chaotic or predictable, but they’re not either of these things all the time. What they are is complex, meaning they’re affected by all the feedback loops that run between them and their environment. Boredom is the product of a feedback loop between your brain, your environment, and your perceptual narrative.

You should know that complex networks (personalities, relationships, markets, and even Main Street) are characterized by feedback and have three tell-tale behaviors. If Carol Milford had understood network behavior, she might’ve take more responsibility for her own happiness from the get-go, moved somewhere more interesting and saved herself the effort of trying to transform the culture of the town. If you know these tendencies you can save yourself a lot of trouble, and if you bear with me I’ll tell you how.

Attractors – these are places where the network is moving toward some kind of equilibrium. The beginnings of order. (In our Main Street scenario, something happens and people are drawn to a certain type of behavior).

Self-reinforcement – where order begets more order. If the nodes in a network are the interconnected lives of Main Street, this is where they all keep doing the same thing because “that’s the way it’s done” and there must be some reward for doing things that way. The positive feedback loop continually validates & perpetuates itself in ways that are pretty much invisible unless you’re on the outside looking for them.

Cascades – these are shifts in direction caused by an outside intervention or an internal breakdown, as when a positive feedback loop has become so homogeneous as to be unsustainable and fragile to outside disruption. A cascade rips through it once and the network is never the same again.

Good? Bad? Neither inherently, because we aren’t talking about an abstraction–we’re talking about the fundamental structure and behavior of complex systems, and positive feedback loops always undo themselves. They either accept diversity and pivot toward greater resilience or they cascade and become something else.

Take heart though. Boredom and disruption go hand in hand, like everything else with its opposite (ever had a week of artistic frustration only to have a colossal breakthrough on the other side?) Periods of boredom and listlessness in human beings often spur discovery. In business, innovation clusters explode when a company breaks the lack of competition (a positive feedback loop) by doing something different that the network was ready for: disruption. Eventually you have the Big Idea, or someone else has it for you, because The Next Big Idea is always riding the cresting wave of the network.

The way the world works is fundamentally about linkages. Taiji master Ben Lo said that whenever you embody yin you also embody yang. A system always embodies the whole circle, and here is where the power is, because it allows for movement into one state to create disequilibrium, which incites a system to move and change in order to regain equilibrium. Nothing can be yin without yang. So if you think about it in terms of network dynamics, boredom is your signal to seek a new stimulus (internal or external) or it will seek you. One way or another, everything in a complex system shifts.

Again: A local network either invites diversity and changes, or it stays the same so long that it becomes fragile, unprepared to adapt to perturbations from its external environment. Then a germ comes along from across the pond and destroys an indigenous population, or incumbent tech company doesn’t see the little guy rising up in time… or a marriage runs into trouble and doesn’t make it. Either way change comes and you get to choose a new direction.

If you aren’t designing for emergence you might get comfortable and mistake positive feedback loops for equilibrium–when what they really are is pent-up order. Emergence will happen anyway. Novelty always prevails over habit, else networks crumble and end up on the forest floor, where as cultural detritus they give new life to emergent forms. This is the way of life.

Acrobats know that you have to move constantly to find balance and stillness. Sometimes those movements are imperceptible, but they are what allow you to keep your footing.

No doubt Sinclair Lewis quelled the demons of his own small town boredom by creating a world where he could shine a light on its secret interiors. For Main Street‘s Carol Milford, emergence did not produce a cultural renaissance in Gopher Prairie, as she’d hoped. A lot of people (myself included) got pissed off about that. But she was a network of one, and did not have the agency with which time and entropy eventually overcome all homogenous networks and the small towns that personify them. Instead, emergence produced in the small networked world of her mind a new way of seeing, a new frame of mind–one that told her she’d be ok no matter what happened. This peculiar marriage of aloofness and intent is the sweet spot where a human being can find agency in a network.

Memes matter, but not so much as mutability. Designing for emergence, or as Alfred North Whitehead might have put it, seeking ordered forms of novelty and novel forms of order, produces the lucky buds of change that networks nurture into memes, which, once they spread, flower into disruption. What happened when readers of Main Street integrated what they saw there into their own worlds certainly changed some minds, an emergent process that continues in immeasurable ways to this day. (Otherwise people wouldn’t hang it over their desks as a symbol of personal transformation.)

Main Street isn’t real. It exists in your imagination and you can leave at any time. The self-organizing nature of the universe always pulls novelty from the battle between order and entropy. Boredom leads to discovery. So before you go and copy someone else’s strategy, sit with your boredom for a while and allow the network to enable emergence.

Network dynamics dictate that everything changes, and you get to choose whether to accept that or the inevitable cascade that comes to wash away the sameness. Either way, we promise it won’t be boring.

To learn how Dialog can help your business, contact us at 512.697.9425 or LetsChat@DialogGroup.com.

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.