Signs of the Times – 1/19/12

I often come across items that I believe reflect the changes I’m describing on this blog. To me they are “signs of the times.” Here are a couple.

“The Rise of the New Groupthink”

The New York Times recently ran an article about a paradox in the way we work today. For many organizations, there is an emphasis on the idea of collaboration. As author Susan Cain notes:

Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.

However, she notes that there is a problem with this approach:

Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature.

Later in the article she says:

…I’m not suggesting that we abolish teamwork. Indeed, recent studies suggest that influential academic work is increasingly conducted by teams rather than by individuals. (Although teams whose members collaborate remotely, from separate universities, appear to be the most influential of all.) The problems we face in science, economics and many other fields are more complex than ever before, and we’ll need to stand on one another’s shoulders if we can possibly hope to solve them.

But even if the problems are different, human nature remains the same. And most humans have two contradictory impulses: we love and need one another, yet we crave privacy and autonomy.

To me this is an example of a basic principle of the Quantum Age: contrary to the popular myth that we must choose between individualism and collectivism, we are inherently both individualistic and collective by nature.  We often have a hard time grasping this because it’s impossible to see both qualities simultaneously. You can see a group or you can see a person in that group; you can’t see both at the same time. But just as subatomic particles have an intrinsic dual particle/wave nature, we humans have a dual individual/collective nature. We will only resolve many of our current problems when we recognize this fact and proceed accordingly, disposing of the prevalent mythology regarding individualism versus collectivism.

Country in Crisis: Looking to America’s Mayors to Rise to the Challenge

Arianna Huffington recently wrote an article regarding how America’s mayors are working to develop solutions to problems that seem to be stumping the politicians in Washington. As she notes:

We’re now in the midst of a battle to see who will sit atop the pyramid in official Washington. This battle will dominate the media in the year ahead, but what the last year showed is that the more important story is what’s happening outside Washington. It was a year in which Time declared “The Protester” its Person of the Year and “Occupy” was named Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society. It was a year of solutions and energy and activism from the bottom up. And given that top-down thinking not only brought us a Depression-level crisis, but also shows no signs of getting us out of it, it’s bottom-up innovation that will be more relevant.

The rest of her article offers examples of such bottom-up innovation.

These examples demonstrate the power of emergence, the principle that living, self-organizing systems develop from the bottom up, within the context of their environment. As I’ve written here and here, many heads of institutions believe things are best run from the top down; that is a major reason why many of those institutions are in trouble. The solution will not be to accord more power and wealth to the heads of those institutions. The solution will be to recognize the power of emergence, and to learn how to rebuild our institutions in a way that harnesses that power.

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About Dave Higgins

I've been interested in current events since at least the mid 1960's, and in ideas from modern science since the early 1990's. My website Quantum Age, which has been online since 1996, presents a basic framework for applying ideas from modern science to today's world. In this blog I discuss current events in the context of that framework.
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