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 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.

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.


I am unreasonably saddened by David Bowie’s passing. To understand why, it is helpful to know a little bit of network theory and understand the implications of neuroplasticity.

On the network theory front, the “Rule of 150” states people can easily keep track of about 150 people in their lives. This is by some reckoning the size of traditional hunter-gatherer bands. In our modern lives, celebrities fill in some of the 150 for many people. David Bowie was one of my 150. He was the Kevin Bacon of my musical universe. One degree to Brian Eno, Talking Heads, Arcade Fire, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Bing Crosby, Annie Lennox, Luther Van Dross, Pat Metheny, Secret Machines, LCD Sound System, TV on the Radio… And two degrees to anybody you choose.* He was, as Sylvester Stallone said of Rocky Balboa at this year’s Golden Globes, “The best imaginary friend I ever had.”

In one concert I saw, Bowie described himself as having been in his “Nietzsche phase” when he wrote a particular song. He said, “You remember your Nietzsche phase, when you carried your pocket Nietzsche in your trench coat?” Was he talking to me? Yes, I had a pocket Nietzsche! I seriously doubt there was anyone else in the audience that night who had a Nietzsche phase.

I only saw him live three times over the years: on the Serious Moonlight Tour in ’83, on the Glass Spider Tour in the late 80s, and for 2004’s Reality — which came on the heels of Heathen (one of Bowie’s most listenable records – start to finish). The last tour showcased a man who had found his groove. He laughed. He was comfortable. And he was entertaining. He was at the height of his success as a person. He was a happy father and spouse. But throughout his career, I felt his evolutions and realized deep truths about what creates happiness and about ongoing innovation.

In the documentary David Bowie: Five Years in the Making of an Icon, they point out Bowie was uncanny in his selection of collaborators (a few are even listed above). And as Josh Groban tweeted about his death, “He bent genres, genders and our minds.” This is why I was attracted to David Bowie — for his purported ability to bend minds. How did he do it? He was a network designer par excellence. He deliberately designed his network to create novelty.

Identity stood at the heart of Bowie’s career. As The Atlantic said on his passing, if you are going to invent as many characters as David Bowie, you have to give consideration to their death. As they note, identity and dissolution is essential to so many human relationships. And it is this that stands at the heart of the pain I feel. As one critic said on Bowie’s passing, quoting Gorky on Tolstoy, I cannot be ‘an orphan on the earth, so long as this man lives on it.’

To understand the neuroscience of this, consider the following simple hand tapping experiment: Tap a table and tap a subject’s hand under the table simultaneously. After a few minutes, you can smack the table and a galvanic skin response shows the subject responds as if they have been struck. Why? Because, as neuropsychologist Donald Hebb coined, “Neurons that fire together wire together.” Put yourself in the subject’s shoes. You aren’t hurt when the table is struck. Yet you think you are because neurons that fire together wire together. It is this that allows us to play the game of life. But it is also this that causes us suffering. We aren’t actually in the picture. We don’t actually get hurt. Our body doesn’t sustain blows when the table gets smacked. But we react as though we did because we are, in cyborg–like fashion, wired into these stimuli. We have inadvertently begun to identify with the table. And neuroscientists tell us there is an especially acute pain when our mirror neurons activate — when we experience a sense of “I/me/mine.”

We have all sorts of things we are attached to inside, but one of the most basic or largest is our identity. David Bowie became a part of mine — for 38 years. That is longer than many friendships. And I know we shared a Nietzsche phase. That is why I am so sad … because as Bowie sang in “This is Not America” — “a little piece of me, a little piece of you… has died.”

* Yet, strangely in a perfect illustration of being trapped in our past preferences by the internet, the David Bowie Station on Pandora on the afternoon of his death repetitively plays the Kinks (Lola six times), the Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Talking Heads. It is like some kind of transitional 70s music ghetto. I don’t discover anything new.

“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?

What is Self-awareness?
When defining the qualities of powerful leaders, self-awareness almost always sits near the top, yet it is one of the attributes least likely to be acknowledged or discussed in a business environment. If self-awareness truly is one of the greatest sources of competitive advantage, we must move beyond our fear of sounding too soft and bring the conversation into the boardroom.

We achieve self-awareness through a process of understanding our personality, unique motives, capacities and values. It involves owning our strengths while simultaneously acknowledging areas that need improvement. In a Western culture that promotes an individualistic and competitive ideology, the notion of acknowledging and exposing our weaknesses is countercultural. Fear of being viewed as weak or inferior may keep us from ever realizing our full potential. Owning our strengths and weaknesses can open doors not only to self-awareness but also to greater success and happiness.

The Benefits
According to a recent article in Forbes, “self aware individuals tend to speak with candor, admit their mistakes, thirst for constructive criticism, and exude a quiet confidence.” Not only do these individuals embody the aforementioned qualities, they also tend to have vibrant relationships, a strong sense of purpose, persuasive communication skills, and increased emotional intelligence.

These benefits become exponentially greater at the organizational level. When we model behaviors such as admitting mistakes, nurturing relationships and seeking feedback, we unconsciously give permission to others to do the same. As a result, an innovative culture emerges by forging trust-based relationships and encouraging employees to take risks.

Tools to Begin the Journey
Author Anthony K. Tjan of Harvard Business Review’s, “How Leaders Become More Self-Aware” suggests, “The idea that self-awareness is a critical factor for business building success is not a new insight. The tougher code to crack is how to become more self aware.” Three tools to begin the journey include:

1. Test and begin to know yourself better: Take a personality test such as Myers-Briggs, Leadership Legacy Assessment, Strength Finder or an EQ test.

2. Engage in Feedback Analysis (FA): Heralded by Phillip Drucker, but thought to date back to a 14th-century German theologian, Feedback Analysis begins with recording what you think will happen each time you make an important decision or take an action.  Next, when the results of the decision or action begin to manifest, compare them with your initial predictions. According to Drucker, the Feedback Analysis process will begin to reveal your strengths, what you are doing or failing to do to achieve your intended outcomes and expose areas of incompetence.

3. Tune into others: In order to resonate with others we must first authentically care about them. When we operate from a place of empathy, we are tuned into others emotional states, respond to social cues, and genuinely care about others’ wellbeing. Being in tune with others creates strong bonds, strengthens interpersonal relationships and allows us to see situations from multiple perspectives.

The Bottom Line

The difference between good and great lies within each of us. For driven and ambitious individuals the path to being good can be straightforward. Following the formula of working hard, meeting expectations, and being socially respectful will most likely propel us down the “good” path.

The journey towards greatness demands we venture into challenging and unknown territory. We must embark on the journey within: We must be willing to challenge ourselves and take risks, always fully owning our strengths and weaknesses. The journey of self-awareness will not only enhance our personal lives, but will inevitably equip us with the tools to guide our organizations to greatness.

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

The surface of American society is, if I may use the expression, covered with a layer of democracy, from beneath which the old aristocratic colors sometimes peep.

This is a description of America democracy, by French aristocrat, Alexis de Toqueville, in Democracy in America I (1835), only 48 years after the founding of the United States. He explains that the vestiges of aristocracy still exist because the American majority is not familiar with civil law and does not question it:

Civil laws are only familiarly known to legal men, whose direct interest it is to maintain them as they are, whether good or bad, simply because they themselves are conversant with them … The body of the country is scarcely acquainted with them … and obeys them without premeditation.

In other words, there are civil laws (laws regulating private relations) in society that still reek of the English aristocracy because the majority of citizens never question them. So, what are these aristocratic civil laws of American society? According to Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America II (1840) the most aristocratic, civil structure of American society is the top-down business structure:

Manufacturers may possibly in their turn bring men back to aristocracy … When a workman is unceasingly and exclusively engaged in the fabrication of one thing, he ultimately does his work with singular dexterity; but at the same time he loses the general faculty of applying his mind to the direction of the work … as the workman improves the man is degraded … On the other hand, more considerable, wealthy and educated men come forward to embark in manufactures … The magnitude of the efforts required, and the importance of the results to be obtained, attract him. Thus at the very time at which the science of manufactures lowers the class of workmen, it raises the class of masters.

Whereas the workman concentrates his faculties more and more upon the study of a single detail, the master surveys a more extensive whole, and the mind of the latter is enlarged in proportion as that of the former is narrowed. In a short time the one will require nothing but physical strength without intelligence; the other stands in need of science, and almost of genius, to insure success. This man resembles more and more the administrator of a vast empire–that man, a brute. The master and the workman have then here no similarity, and their differences increase every day…the one is continually, closely, and necessarily dependent upon the other, and seems as much born to obey as that other is to command. What is this but aristocracy?

When workers focus only on the tasks at hand and do not apply their minds to the direction of the work they become narrow-minded and dependent. On the other hand, managers must see the big picture, be leaders, and envision the future. Over time, the divide becomes so large between managers and workers that managers despise workers’ lack of perspective and workers despise managers’ lack of empathy. This is aristocracy, and when the majority of citizens are in this environment, as is the case today, managers and executives are treated as kings and geniuses and paid hundreds of times more than workers. In the political arena, these same workers/citizens treat their political managers as kings and geniuses. Politicians become saviors and heroes that will rescue us and fix the problems of the people. These unfair expectations of our leaders cause deficient governance and nurture the seeds of aristocracy and the dependency of men. If left unchecked, America may fully become an aristocracy–or more appropriately a plutocracy (i.e., rule by the wealthy).

On a brighter note, de Tocqueville offered consolation. He saw that some Americans had “commercial and manufacturing companies, in which all take part.” At the beginning of our democratic experiment, many Americans could see as de Tocqueville did that entrepreneurially-minded, informed citizens that open their minds to opportunities and willingly take risks are necessary to maintain our democracy. Democracy cannot exist among human machines that have no vision of the future.

The top-down business structure is a trace of English aristocratic control that grooms the majority to be dependent upon business and political managers. Moreover, the top-down business structure (as defined by civil law) is one of the most difficult aspect of our society to change. If we are to change it and if we are to improve our democracy, we must gain vision and perspective. We must acquaint ourselves with civil law and ask, “Why?” We must expand our minds and believe as Thomas Jefferson did that “men can be trusted to govern themselves without a master.”

The Beehive: A symbol of productivity, tireless work, discipline, frugality, order, harmony, industry, and the sweet results of turmoil. To some though, the beehive is also an example of why hierarchy is the most productive system of industry. It serves as an example of how mindless beings that submit themselves to order will thrive. In real life, however, bees are anything but mindless drones working under a dictatorial queen bee. The title of “queen” is often confused with what the queen bee actually does. In no way does the queen bee make leadership choices. Instead, she is treated with special care by the other bees so that she might do her job of laying over half-a-million eggs per year.The reality is that bees are an amazing example, in nature, of how consensus, union and intelligent cooperation lead to better decision making.

One of the most important group decisions made by a bee colony is where to locate the nest. This particular type of decision making in bees is well studied. The colony sends out a small number of scouts to survey the environment for good nest locations; typically, scouts comprise about 5 percent of the total group. When the scouts return to the colony with information, those who found a more promising site signal their finding by dancing at a higher intensity and for a longer period of time.As a result of this social signaling, more scouts are recruited to the better sites. After additional scouts explore the better sites and return to signal their findings, the dancing of the scouts skews further in favor of the better sites. Eventually so many scouts are signaling in favor of the best site that a tipping point is reached, and the entire colony picks up and moves. Social signaling, communicated by higher activity, causes the information from individual scouts to be communicated, weighted, and pooled, iteratively recruiting a larger and larger fraction of the colony, until a group consensus is reached.

Alex Pentland. Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World (Kindle Locations 695-702). Kindle Edition.

Studies of bee colonies show that over 99 percent of the time scout bees, through consensus, choose the highest-quality nesting site available.

Similar social signaling is used by worker bees, who make up about 85 percent of the colony, to find the best nectar locations (click here to watch video). The direction of their dance indicates the direction of the nectar source, and the intensity and length of dance persuade other worker bees of the best nectar locations.

Consensus, democracy, division of labor and division of management are the governing philosophies of a bee colony. Furthermore, by dividing decision making and decentralizing it to those groups that are best qualified to make particular decisions, bees are able to fully utilize their collective intelligence.

Further learning: