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The Complexity Matters blog features the Thursday Complexity Post as well as other complexity inspired news items.


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Social Sharing Builds New and Different Markets

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, May 1, 2014

Young people who care more about social capital than market capital, and who think access is more valuable than ownership, will increasingly disrupt established businesses and transform economies, according to economic and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin.

Rifkin is the author of The Zero Marginal Cost Society, a new book that describes how the emerging Internet of Things is propelling us toward an era of nearly free goods and services and how a growing culture of sharing rather than owning is speeding the growth of a global Collaborative Commons. And those forces, he says, will mean the eclipse of capitalism as we know it.

In an essay posted at, Rifkin cites opinion surveys by Latitude Research reporting 75 percent of respondents believe their sharing of physical objects and spaces will increase in the next five years; 78 percent said online interactions have made them more open to sharing with strangers; and 85 percent think the web and mobile technologies will help build large scale sharing communities.

In a New York Times essay, Rifkin identifies what he calls "a paradox at the heart of capitalism." He says the "inherent dynamism of competitive markets" is bringing costs so far down that many goods and service are becoming cheap, plentiful and no longer subject to market forces. He says that began with peer to peer file sharing that let people bypass conventional sources for entertainment and information. He predicts many giant enterprises in a variety of commercial sectors won't survive the trend.

Airbnb is a six-year-old start up that has booked three million guests for 10 million nights in 33,000 cities in 192 countries. This year, Rifkin writes, Airbnb expects to fill more rooms than the Hilton InterContinental hotel chain -the world's largest hotel operation. Airbnb connects people who want to earn income by renting out their unused space and people looking for interesting, inexpensive temporary lodging. The website offers accommodations that range from rooms and apartments to boats and tree houses. Its biggest competitor, is described on its website has a global community of 7 million people in more than 100,000 cities who "share their life, their world, their journey." Couchsurfing members provide free space to each other, and emphasize the opportunity for social interaction. Rifkin says more than 19.1 million friendships have developed from couchsurfing visits.

A multitude of websites offer sharing and renting of cars, toys, tools, and clothing for children and adults. Tie Society is a subscription service for men who can receive and exchange the high-end fashion accessories for as little as $11 a month. The Freecycle Network is a nonprofit that claims more than seven million members world wide and allows users to give away used items for free.

"It's not surprising that a younger generation that grew up recycling plastic, glass and paper would turn to recycling items they own," Rifkin writes. "The notion of optimizing the life cycle of items in order to reduce the need to produce more partially used goods has become second nature to young people for whom sustainability is the new frugality."

Rifkin thinks The Internet of Things, a recent phenomenon based on a technology platform that is beginning to connect everyone to everything, has potential to create a new economic model in which collaborative consumption outpaces owning. According to, a thing, in the Internet of Things (IoT), can be a person with a heart monitor implant, a farm animal with a biochip transponder, an automobile that has built-in sensors to alert the driver when tire pressure is low -- or any other natural or man-made object that can be assigned an IP address and provided with the ability to transfer data over a network. Rifkin writes that today, more than 11 billion sensors are attached to things and feeding data into the IoT. People can connect to the network and use available tools to access a huge range of products and services. Rifkin calls IoT a game changer that will allow a collaborative commons to flourish alongside conventional commercial markets.

Tags:  buscell  community  complexity matters  networks  scaling 

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Leaders Face New Challenges in a Networked World

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, February 13, 2014

The language of leadership often reflects hierarchy and elaborates distinctions between leaders and followers. The "great man" theory of history proposed by nineteenth century philosopher Thomas Carlisle still offers an appealing view of extraordinary men and women shaping and moving events through their own personal strength and charisma. Scholar and author Mila Baker, PhD, argues one of the most profound social shifts in recent years has been erosion of individual power and the rise of collective power enabled by technology and social media.

"We need a mindset and language of leadership that maintains equilibrium between leading and following-a conception of leadership that is agile and stateless in its composition," she writes in her new book Peer to Peer Leadership: Why the Network is the Leader. "Like the U.S. Constitution guides and influences the nation's trajectory without stifling the rights and freedoms of its populace, organizations' design needs to facilitate leading and following on an equal platform."

Dr. Baker isn't saying CEOs have no role. She is saying today's changing business world requires them to adopt new thinking and behavior. In the architecture of a peer to peer network community, every computer-or electronic device-represents a node. The network connects people and provides instant flow of information. All nodes within the network are equal participants in a larger whole, a concept Dr. Baker calls equipotency. Electronic technology is no longer just a tool in organizations. It changes the way we relate to one another. It enables information to be sent and received among peers working toward a common goal. Everyone leads and everyone follows. Dr. Baker tells of her own experience working in a psychiatric emergency room. Each individual had an equal opportunity to contribute, which was not defined by an individuals' role or position, but the need of the moment. "We shared power and authority-we followed and gave orders as necessary," she writes, all respecting each other's commitment to the wellbeing of patients. "In general, she says, "equipotency blurs the line between leader and follower, and at the same time clarifies the overall purpose within groups and organizations."

The dynamic action needed to respond to a situation, she says, "occurs at the intersection of art and science." That's the relational dynamic that develops within a network when all perspectives are heard, integrated and accounted for. The network becomes the leader, Dr. Baker writes, because actions are based on a consensus of needs.

So what is the paradigm for new leadership? Dr. Baker says leadership can only be demonstrated in the context of a relational dynamic. She describes leadership as a "dyad exchange structure." She says this kind of leadership is shown by "the catalytic action that occurs in the relational dynamic between two individuals working together toward a common goal." In organizations that have successfully evolved away from the Industrial Age individual-centered command and control model, dyad exchange structures will connect nodes-people-for the purpose of resolving polarities and innovating. Dr. Baker says these structures will strengthen the bonds among people, enable the network to do its work, and allow us to embrace technology "as an extension of our capacity to evolve as humans in a connected world." The connected world means we need to move beyond the idea that leadership is limited to individuals, and that information should flow mainly from boss to subordinate. Networked information in organizations means more openness and more agility. Hazards associated with increased openness can be mitigated by technology that quickly uncovers patterns and identifies risks.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  leaders  leadership  networks 

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Things We'll Share Light Up Our Minds

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, July 11, 2013

What’s the difference between ideas that bomb and ideas that go viral?

It may be that we’re hard wired for sharing, and the ideas we spread are the ones we think will be interesting and useful to others, not just the ones we like ourselves. This potential communal pleasure actually sparks a measurable response in our brains.

Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles have for the first time identified regions of the brain associated with the successful spread of ideas, a finding that could have broad implications for public health campaigns, advertising, and better ways for teachers to communicate with learners.

The UCLA News describes work by Matthew Lieberman, a professor of psychology, psychiatry and behavioral science, and colleagues, who say brain data shows we are always alert for ideas and stories we think will amuse and engage others. "At our first encounter with information we are already using the brain network involved in how this can be interesting to other people,” Lieberman told UCLA News writer Stuart Wolpert. "I think that is a profound statement about the social nature of our minds.”

Nineteen UCLA students had functional magnetic imaging (fMRI) brain scans while being presented with ideas for 24 fictitious TV pilots. They then made video taped evaluations of each pilot, and decided which ones they would recommend for production. Another group of 79 students played the role of producers, who watched the student assessment videos and came up with their own ratings. When students first saw the pilots they would later recommend, activity in the brain region known as the temporopareital junction, TPJ, markedly increased. Activity in the TPJ region was also higher in the brains of students who were most persuasive in pitching their favored pilots to the producers. The findings are reported in the online edition of the journal Psychological Science.

Lieberman explains that when we enter the minds of fictional characters in a book or a movie, or when we try to figure out what another real person is thinking or feeling, we’re activating the brain’s "mentalizing network." That network includes the TPJ, located on the outer surface of the brain, and the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, located in the middle of the brain.

"Before this study, we didn’t know what brain regions were associated with ideas that become contagious, and we didn’t know what regions were associated with being an effective communicator of ideas,” said Emily Falk, lead author of the journal article who was a researcher in Lieberman’s lab and is now at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communication. "Now we have mapped the brain regions associated with the ideas that are likely to be contagious and are associated with being a good idea salesperson. In the future we would like to be able to use these brain maps to forecast what ideas are likely to be successful and who is likely to be effective at spreading them.” Interestingly, predictions based on neuroimaging may provide faster and more accurate indications of real-world outcomes than self-reporting by individuals.

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Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  networks  research 

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The Real and Surreal Merge in Cyberspace

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, April 25, 2013

For James Gleick, the massive interconnectivity that kept Americans informed and misinformed on the Boston bombings, shootings, manhunt and capture of a suspect represents a "watershed for Total Noise" in a strange and unstable information ecosystem where reality and fiction intermingle.

In a New York magazine essay, Gleick describes the condition that late novelist David Foster Wallace called Total Noise: "the tsunami of available fact, context and perspective." Gleick is the author of Chaos: Making a New Science, which came out in 1987 and first made the principles and early development of chaos theory understandable to the general public. He is a prolific writer, whose 1999 book Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything (review), tells how we had even then undergone an informational and social phase change through the massive interconnections of people by way of modern technology. In his New York piece, he writes that with Twitter feeds burgeoning, microblogging, Instagram, "Internet vigilantes bleeding into the FBI's staggeringly complex" forensic video analysis, and crowdsourcing by social media users, the dividing line between cyberspace and the real world has vanished.

In her New York Times column, Maureen Dowd recalls when Gleick was her editor, and reports on a recent interview in which she asked him to reflect on how we can make sense of relentless waves of unorganized contradictory and changeable data. Gleick told her he followed Twitter on his iPhone during the Boston crisis, and added, "The Internet is messy, pointillist, noisy, often wrong. But if you had a visceral need for instantaneity, TV couldn't compete."

Gleick writes about the gaffs of TV news reporters and anchors who traded accuracy for speed, the blizzard of banal verbiage from commentators who had to fill time with no new information, and misleading bits bandied about when everyone is monitoring everyone else and "no one can bear to be left out." Reddit users named innocent people as suspects. Gleick says the best understanding of events was produced in newspaper stories written by reporters on the scene.

Dowd asked him about an incident in which the Syrian Electronic Army hacked the AP Twitter account and falsely reported that President Obama had been injured in White House explosions, causing a three minute $136 billion stock plunge. He notes hacking happens; and bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is not the only one who has had real and fake Twitter accounts.

"There is no perfect trust in Cyberspace," Gleick told Dowd. "We have all these new channels and tools to understand the world as it happens, but there is no reliable algorithm for sorting through the morass. ...we have to invent a new personal methodology every day. And if we're waiting for things to settle down and become simple, that's never going to happen."

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  networks  systems 

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ALS Patients Testing Home-Brewed Drugs

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, March 28, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 29, 2013

Networking and internet research help patients become increasingly involved in treatment of their illnesses, and people with Lou Gehrig’s disease are providing dramatic examples of medical autonomy. Many are making themselves guinea pigs to test unofficial treatments.

Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a degenerative disease that damages nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord and leads to loss of muscle control and eventual immobility. Life expectancy after diagnosis is only two to five yeas, and there is no known cure.

"Do It Yourself Medicine,” a story in by Jef Akst tells the story of Eric Valor, a 42-year-old with advanced ALS who helped set up an independent drug trial for himself and other ALS sufferers. Although he needs a ventilator to breathe and cannot move any part of his body except his eyes and some facial muscles, he managed to use his eyes to research the web for information about a new drug and set up a website where he and fellow experimenters could report their data. Clinical trials for a new ALS drug NP001 developed by Neuraltus Pharmaceuticals, were to begin in 2010, but Valor’s debilitated physical condition made him ineligible. Developers hope the drug might slow progression of the disease, so to show any impact Valor couldn’t just stop getting worse. He’d have to start getting better, something not proven with any ALS drug.

Based on their research, Valor and others thought the drug contained 50 percent sodium chlorite, a chemical available online for about $50 a quart. He asked his mother to inject a dilute solution into his feeding tube. More than two dozen patients have done the same, and shared their experiences and data. They used a site at PatientsLikeMe, a company cofounded in 2004 by three MIT engineers, Benjamin and James Heywood and Jeff Cole. The Heywood family had spent years searching for anything that would extend and improve the life of a third brother who had ALS, and the experience inspired creation of a health sharing platform. The goal is to help patients manage their own care, and change the way industry conducts research.

According to a Wall Street Journal story by Amy Docker Marcus, many ALS patients concoct their own drugs because they feel they don’t have time to wait for clinical trials and FDA approval. They are also reluctant to risk getting placebos rather than the real thing in a clinical trail. Some medical authorities worry about that approach. Marcus quotes Jonathan D. Glass, professor of neurology at Emory University School of Medicine, who suggests research needs the rigors and controls set by the medical establishment. He worries that guinea pigs could hurt themselves, adding, "Who knows what they’re actually making in their kitchens?”

Neurologist and researcher Richard Bedlack, who directs the Duke University ALS Clinic, thinks greater patient involvement is a good thing. "There’s a new model of medicine, in my opinion,” he told TheScientist. "Once upon a time we had a very paternalistic system where patients would come…and doctors would ask all the questions and give all the answers. In the past decade, things have really shifted, almost to the other side, where a lot of medicine is autonomous now.”

Results from the independent sodium chlorite trials are equivocal. While some self-dosers reported improvement, a report published by PatientsLikeMe investigators found a potentially negative effect. Neuraltus researchers last October announced its drug showed progress, and it seeks a big-pharma partner for a Phase 3 clinical trial. Valor, for one, would like early access to the drug, and he sees no conflict in being both patient and researcher. "I just treat myself as another lab rat,” he said.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  medicine  networks  research 

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Love, Money and Soul Mates Online

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love, in its many varieties, is big business, and it’s not just the flowers, candy and jewelry that sell well on Valentine’s Day.

Meeting and mating go on all year. Money can’t buy love, but it can buy a chance to meet potential lovers and spouses. About 30 million people--that’s 10 percent of the U.S. population--visit dating sites on a monthly basis, according to Nielsen, the market research firm. A Wall Street Journal Market Watch story by Quentin Fottrell reports that the internet dating industry is now worth about $1.2 billion, a 4 percent increase from a year ago. Fees have risen along with increased use and popularity., which charged $9.95 a month when it opened in 1995, now charges $36 a month. EHarmony, launched in 2000, now charges $60 a month.

Not too long ago, the story notes, couples who met online didn’t mention that at their weddings. Now online dating is main stream, and the fastest growing segment of online daters is baby boomers---people over 50 years old who are more likely than younger people to be widowed or divorced. The AARP started a dating site for seniors in January.

Online dating services offer opportunities to meet just about every sort of partner. There are sites where singles can seek other single Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, artists and environmentalists. There are dating sites targeted toward athletes, farmers, and amputees. There are even sites for very vain hotties. is a sight people can only use if members considered them gorgeous enough to be voted in. Many tout algorithms they say will match potential partners according to interest, intelligence, values, beliefs and any number of personality traits.

There are also coaches to meet specialized romantic needs. A Wall Street Journal piece by JoPiazza describes widows and divorcees deciding to date after long term marriages. Flirting doesn’t always come naturally to those who haven’t done it in decades. And some needs are complex, such as coaching needed by formerly Hasidic men and women who are just entering the dating pool.

A market research company reports that more than half of American online daters lie on their profiles, according to Fottrell’s story. While most paid sites try to weed out sexual predators and scam artists, there are few ways to detect the small lies people tell to burnish their imaged or cover flaws. Some deceptions go beyond shaving off a couple years and a few pounds. caters to married customers looking to cheat on their spouses. The site's motto is "Life is short. Have an Affair” and it boasts 17,850,000 members seeking extramarital adventure. AshleyMadison CEO Noel Biderman told ChicagoNow that many singles sites are overrun with married men who lie about their status and that monogamy is obsolete anyway.

Reuben J. Thomas, assistant professor of sociology at the City College of New York, told a writer for that internet dating is successful because "with technology eroding the face-to-face social scene, it's rare for people to accidentally meet in real life anymore.” Even kids know love can be outsourced. When students in an eighth grade class in New Jersey were asked to write an essay describing how the internet would make their lives different from the lives of their parents, one wrote, "You can get a new husband or wife online. Our parents had to go to bars for that.” The comment  wasn’t unusual.


Happy Valentine’s Day! Jorge Parada, medical director of the infectious disease unit at Loyola University Health System, told The "Mid-February is usually the peak season for infectious diseases, such as the seasonal and H1N1 flu, mononucleosis, colds, and coughs." So instead of kissing, sharing dessert, or cuddling by the fire, he suggests the best valentine is getting and giving the gift of a flu shot. He insists that really says "I love you.”

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  networks  technology 

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Network Mapping at UHN

Posted By Susan Doherty, Thursday, November 18, 2010
Updated: Thursday, June 6, 2013
From the University Health Network website -

When most people hear the words "social network,” they think of the recent movie or one of the many websites that "bring people together.” But the General Surgery unit at TGH has put a twist on social networking, proving that it’s useful for more than just keeping track of friends in far-off places. Led by Nurse Manager Brenda Perkins-Meingast, the unit has been busy working on a new hand hygiene initiative with the Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) department that maps the relationships between the people on her team.

Tags:  networks  stopMRSA 

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