At some point in 2016 (for me it was the third week in October) everybody suddenly seemed to be talking about chatbots and Artificial Intelligence. I thought it was just my own perception but even Bloomberg appeared to agree, so there. And at the same time discussions spread within Intranet circles about how bots and AI could revolutionise user experience in the workplace.
This led me to revisit a 1994 work by Wired magazine founder, Kevin Kelly. Written at the beginning of the internet explosion, Out of Control – The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems and the Economic World was Kelly’s prescient and detailed vision of how technology could take inspiration from nature to evolve and shape our lives. Kelly held a grand view of the technological landscape and ventured these predictions:
“Out of Control shows how the complexity of beehives, meadows and evolving viruses all reveal the same animating principles, and how our technological future will use these principles to create household ecologies of interactive appliances; virtual reality worlds of artificial sex, life and death; and ‘fast, cheap and out of control’ business strategies for a global economy built on networks”
Key to this vision was that in order for technology to progress, people had to relinquish control over computers and allow them to learn and grow by themselves, organically. Essential to this growth was an understanding that systems would be built comprised of a hive mind – a multitude of tiny units each functioning independently. We can see this hive mind used today in many different ways, for example rack upon rack of servers in a data center or even the act of crowdsourcing. We also have ‘household ecologies’ which we know more prosaically as The Internet of Things and he was in the right direction regarding VR and global business systems.
What I found most exciting to re-read though, especially in relation to Intranets, was Kelly’s epically titled NINE LAWS OF GOD [cue thunder].
The laws, which Kelly distilled from observing ‘systems as diverse as biological evolution and SimCity’ and saw as a template governing the creation of ‘somethings from nothing’ could realistically be used as effective guiding principles for a modern Digital Workplace. Written 27 years ago in a virtual primordial soup pre-widespread internet and mobile phones, these could still work as an effective model for creating a successful network and can be applied to Intranets, ESNs or any large system.
I’ve added a brief description to support each one and hope there is some resonance with your own experiences:
The 9 Laws
- Distribute being
Distribution of a multitude of smaller units. – “All the mysteries we find most interesting – life, intelligence, evolution – are found in the soil of large distributed systems”
- Control from the bottom up
Have User-centred design and allow users to solve problems that work easiest for their teams. – “When everything happens at once, wide and fast-moving problems simply route around any central authority”
- Cultivate increasing returns
Strengthen, reinforce wins, positive feedback, success breeds success
- Grow by chunking
Begin with a simple system that works, assemble incrementally
- Maximise fringes
Diversity favours remote borders, healthy fringe speeds adoption, increases resilience, and is source of innovations
- Honour your errors
Embrace failures, learn from mistakes
- Pursue no optima, have multiple goals
“So vast are the mingled drives in any complex entity that it is impossible to unravel actual causes of its survival” – Seek ‘good enough’ across functions rather than excellence in each one.
- Seek persistent disequilibrium
Neither constancy nor relentless change will support a creation
- Change changes itself
Have self-changing rules that evolve themselves. – “When extremely large systems are built up out of complicated systems, then each system begins to influence and ultimately change the organisations of other systems”.
In conclusion, I’d say the list probably needs a 10, which would be:
- Have an omnipresent all-seeing deity to make the big decisions.
That would be you, wise Intranet Manager.