Michael Copeland of Wired interviewed Joi Ito of the MIT Media Lab, getting past the techno-utopianism and down to an almost Taoist set of principles for thriving in the postnormal world, a time of mounting uncertainty, ambiguity, complexity, and volatility. After chatting about the falling cost of innovation and Schumpeterian disruptions in hardware, genetics, and health care, we get down to the meat:
“Wired: And in the face of that we ought to do what?
Ito: What you need to do is understand these changes are happening, and build systems and governments and ways of thinking that are resilient to this kind of destructive change that is going to happen. It’s a kind of change that is really hard to predict, it’s really hard to control, so how do you as a human being, or as an organization, survive in this chaotic, unpredictable system where planning is almost impossible?
Wired: Please tell me you have an answer.
Ito: There are nine or so principles to work in a world like this:
- Resilience instead of strength, which means you want to yield and allow failure and you bounce back instead of trying to resist failure.
- You pull instead of push. That means you pull the resources from the network as you need them, as opposed to centrally stocking them and controlling them.
- You want to take risk instead of focusing on safety.
- You want to focus on the system instead of objects.
- You want to have good compasses not maps.
- You want to work on practice instead of theory. Because sometimes you don’t why it works, but what is important is that it is working, not that you have some theory around it.
- It[’s] disobedience instead of compliance. You don’t get a Nobel Prize for doing what you are told. Too much of school is about obedience, we should really be celebrating disobedience.
- It’s the crowd instead of experts.
- It’s a focus on learning instead of education.
We’re still working on it, but that is where our thinking is headed.”
A few thoughts:
The risk-safety dichotomy is also to “be biased toward speculative experiments that allow deeper understanding of implications, rather than optimizing around lowering disruption and short-term costs.”
“Focus on the system, not on objects” means we need to think more in verbs — about the flow — and less in nouns.
One thing missing is the principle related to resilience: go slow to go fast. This means you need to step out of the flow of today’s operational frenzy to take new actions. In martial arts, this means you must relax your muscles and nerves to respond or attack quickly.
“You don’t get a Nobel Prize for doing what you are told” is priceless.
I am waiting for the book.