Re: Is speed/technology really progress? (was Re:Progress t

Tue, 31 Jan 1995 22:11:05 EST

-- [ From: Geof Fountain * EMC.Ver #2.10P ] --

Gkeizer said (edited):
> . . . "The productivity paradox in information technology."
> The thrust of the paper is that researchers are having an
> extremely hard time measuring _any_ increase in productivity
> as a result of capital spending on computers and IT
> applications, with the possible exception of areas that are
> purely data entry-dependent such as transaction processing.
> The service sector, which is the business area that has made
> the largest investment in IT, has shown a slowdown in
> productivity by several measures.
> The author's contention basically is that the metrics of
> traditional productivity measurement may not apply to IT-based
> investment, but I'm not so sure. Maybe, as Stever says,
> faster isn't necessarily better, and more information may just
> lead to confusion and chaos without time taken to digest it.
> Companies that have given into the unrelenting hype about IT
> have spent millions on strategic information systems and have
> wound up with very expensive white elephants. CIOs that were
> heros of the IT profession have been fired. Could it be that
> the touted Information Age will take an unexpected turn
> because of some inherent limit to the amount of information
> processing humans are able to take on?
> . . .

Maybe we just need a little more time.

To restate - perhaps our information technologies have created chaos
because the amount of information has exceeded our current capacity to
use it. In other words, IT has significantly increased the "diversity"
of information, but the integration/synthesizing of this information
has not yet caught up. The result is chaos.

So what do we do ? Perhaps Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book
"Evolving Self" has some answers. As I understand his book, living
things (systems) evolve toward higher levels of complexity. He defines
increased complexity as having two balanced-growth characteristics:

* the number of "parts"
* the ability for the parts to communicate

Any sustained increase in the complexity of the system requires a
balanced growth of both the parts (increased diversification) and the
communication between the parts (increased integration).

Systems with too much growth tilted toward the "parts" end up with
chaos. These systems tend to change momentarily, but then loose the
change because they have no structure to retain it. Systems with too
much growth tilted toward integration (or order) of the parts end up
with too much rigid structure, where change is resisted. The ideal,
evolving system has a continuing balance in the growth of the parts
(diversity) and the communication/linking of the parts (integration).
Applying this to the IT situation, perhaps the growth in IT (parts)
fueled by computer technology has momentarily outpaced our ability to
effectively integrate/synthesize all this new information.

Is Mihaly's definition of complexity another way of describing Meg
Wheatley's "quantum/chaos" organization - one with local autonomy
(which allows continual, innovative growth - diversity) guided by
overall company mission, vision, values (integration of the local
efforts toward the system whole) ? One could also make some analogies
with Fritjof Capra's eco systems theories.

In "Built to Last - Successful Habits of Visionary Companies", one
could group authors Collins and Porras common traits of visionary
companies into two areas (my understanding). These companies had

1) an environment of renewal, innovation, adaptation, and change

whose overall identity was preserved by

2) core ideology and values that are the guiding beacons and bonding

Innovations/successes were found by trial and error - undirected
evolutionary processes similar to organic evolving species (example:
Post-Its). Adaptation/evolution occurred by random mutation that just
happens to be more congruent to the environment. More similarities to
Capra, Mihaly, Wheatley ? Four independent perspectives of a same
holographic, natural principle ? Are we getting closer ?? Maybe they
all studied under the same professor/mentor !

One other thought from "The Evolving Self". More complex systems tend
to displace less complex systems. Could one use this point of view to
figure out which companies will be around in ten years and which
companies won't ? Hmmm.

If IT has tilted the balance toward the "parts", perhaps the evolution
in the telecommunications industry (with help from Internet ?) will
rebalance the scales to the integration/linking side. There seem to be
companies out there that are pursuing this strategy right now. Are
they doing it for the reasons discussed above perhaps ?

Geof Fountain