The Rise Of Emergent Networks – Part 2 of 2


“Sometimes the situation is only a problem because it is looked at in a certain way. Looked at in another way, the right course of action may be so obvious that the problem no longer exists.” – Edward De Bono, Author of Lateral Thinking

“Removing the faults in a stage-coach may produce a perfect stage-coach, but it is unlikely to produce the first motor car.” – Edward De Bono, Author of Lateral Thinking

A problem as old and pervasive as the one we face (See Part 1) is beyond the reach of any person to solve. It can only be solved with a Game Changer.

Changing The Rules Of The Game

An analysis in Game Theory applies the effects of two kinds of changes:

Situational changes – These are made within the context of a game, typically requiring moderate strategy adaptions.
Changes to the game itself – Adding or removing a rule can upset balances, rewrite strategies, and effectively create new games. The effects of a rule change increase exponentially with the complexity of the game.

Most of the changes we deal with in our day to day game are situational changes. Conventional planning is based on the assumption that the past serves as an useful model for predicting the future.

But, remember the old adage: Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

If history teaches one lesson, it’s that the future unfolds in unexpected directions when the existing rules are upset.

Adapting To Game Changers

In World War I, tanks were employed for the first time. Career cavalry officers, lacking imagination, used them in the same role as horse cavalry. This was so ineffective that some units reverted, refusing to use their “useless” tanks. Throughout the entire war, the tank was never employed with proper tactics.

Most of us have probably seen management that blames their tools for their own lack of insight. Unfortunately, in this case, the cost was recorded in millions of lives.

Aircraft were initially employed in a reconnaissance role, to replace observation balloons. Towards the end of the war, the U.S. Army Air Corps (ancestor to the U.S. Air Force) began attacking enemy supply lines from the air. Unlike tanks as horses, this quickly brought a 4-year trench stalemate to an end.

Fast forward to 1939 – the dawn of the Second World War. Though there were technological improvements on many fronts, World War II armies had the same basic set of tools as the late-World-War-I forces. This time, the world would witness their full potential.

When Rommel lead German forces into Poland, he employed Blitzkrieg, a combination of penetrating armored columns, mechanized infantry and close air support. This approach, called Combined Arms by modern armies, is still in use.

In the trenches, France had held out against Germany for over four years. This time, Paris fell in six weeks. The success of Blitzkrieg, almost two decades in the making, sent ripples throughout Allied war planning.

Same Lesson, Different Epoch

Castle Walls caused defensive stalemates across medieval Europe, until the invention of siege weapons. Cannons put the final nail in the coffin. The wealthy who could afford these weapons became the rulers of nations.

Knights In Armor were nearly invincible in the open field for centuries. The first cheap armor-piercing weapon wielded in large numbers (and with relatively little training) was the english longbow. The French lost four wars to the English learning its effectiveness.

Professional Mercenary Armies were required to win wars in Europe for centuries. Until the Founding Fathers came up with a better solution: Men will fight for free for their own rights. Fighting for their own homes, citizen patriots took up arms and endured hardships far in excess of their paid counterparts.

Strong Leadership and Bold Tactics led the Southern Army to early victories in the Civil War, until the organization that would later become the U.S. Secret Service invented the first form of Currency Warfare. The South’s economic defeat guaranteed their eventual military defeat.

Though war provides obvious and dramatic examples, Game Changers cause power swings in in sports, business, politics, and society at large.

Key Lessons:
•Conventional ideas (and sometimes leaders) must be put aside to allow innovations to realize their full potential.
•Using the same basic tools, a change in tactics can yield amazing results.
•The full impact of Game Changers may not be immediately felt. It can take decades.
•The greatest gains are reaped by those who adapt early and capitalize on an unprepared opponent.

The Game Changer Of The 21st Century

“Genes, like Leibnitz’s monads, have no windows; The higher properties of life are emergent.” – Edward O. Wilson, Sociobiology

These days, the world seems gripped by a general sense of impending change, but the source seems elusive to many…

It’s actually quite simple.

Game Changer: Universal peer to peer communication, via the Internet, has reduced the cost of collaboration to near zero. Formerly, the means of mass communication and sources of expert knowledge were centralized, expensive, and controlled by institutional interests.

As a result, Pyramid Hierarchies are losing their power. Emergent Networks are rising to replace them. Mass communication and expert knowledge is becoming decentralized, cheap, and harder to monopolize.

So, what is an Emergent Network?

Emergent – Pursuit of a solution using dynamic, fast, and cheap collaboration. Roles, responsibilities, and strategies arise through collective intelligence.
Network – Relationships can form along any common axis of interest. Peers join and leave on equal terms, without mutually excluding themselves from other associations.

Typical Emergent Network Group Characteristics:

•Roles, responsibilities, and expectations sourced through collaboration.
•Fast convergence & divergence from the objective. Converge -> Attack -> Disperse
•Honest, direct communication between peers. (No Celine’s 2nd Law)
•Priority is placed on results, rather than adherence to a specific process.
•Immediate ejection of group members who do not contribute or meet their role expectations.
•Continuous strategy shift as the environment changes. “A rolling stone gathers no moss.”
•Lack of mutual exclusion allows individual contribution to multiple groups and multiple solutions (Try telling your corporate bosses that you want to work for the competition – to explore an alternate solution – and see what happens).
•The cheap cost of forming or exiting an association makes groups resistant to becoming institutions. (In a corporation or government agency, you usually get rid of the biggest jerk by waiting for him to retire or quit.)

Though not identical, Emergent Networks bear much in common with the World War II draft-model discussed in Part 1.

The Results Are Already In

This is by no means a comprehensive list, and is not arranged in order of significance…

Pyramid Product -> Network Product
Mainstream Media -> Alternative Media
Centralized Web Services -> Cloud Services
National Political Parties -> Grassroots Movements (Occupy, Tea Party, Liberty Movement)
Central Bank Currency -> Cryptocurrency (Bitcoin being the leading example)
Corporate Software -> Open Source Software
Encyclopedia Britannica -> Wikipedia
Venture Capital Funding -> Crowdsourcing
Traditional Revolution -> Arab Spring Uprising
Street Gang -> Flash Mob
Napster -> Bit Torrent
Centralized Manufacture -> Distributed Production Network (3D Printing for example)
Formal Activity Clubs -> Meetup Groups
Traditional Startup -> Y-Combinator

Perhaps the most profound effect is on how we relate to others…

Breaking The Cycle Of Institutions

Self-interest and group-interest will always need to find a balance. For thousands of years, Pyramids have been the easiest answer to this problem.

The cost of a hierarchy is the group’s submission to the self-interest of the rulers and owners. Predictably, this becomes a slow march from instrument to institution. (See: The Architecture Of History)

Self-destruction begins when necessary changes are held back to protect the vested interests of the status quo.

But we’re finally seeing a way to break this cycle…

Emergent Networks nullify or reduce most of the pyramid-centric problems. With less resources wasted on internal conflict, self-interest and group-interest can align on the objective. Better results can be delivered at lesser cost, and new ideas cannot be suppressed by entrenched powers.

Dead weight is reduced when it’s cheaper to start a new group than deal with someone who drags everyone else down. Functional aspects of hierarchies can still be used, such as electing a leader or representative, but this can never be forced on the group.

With reduced bureaucracy, the problem solving process accelerates. As group tasks and roles become well-established, the benefits of this model will compound.

Towards A Different Future

Our future is in motion. Even the so-called experts can’t predict exactly how things are going to turn out.

Solutions are emerging, some more promising than others.

Unprecedented access to knowledge sharing is giving rise to a new generation of thinkers, capable of mastering multiple fields and sharing knowledge at an unprecedented rate.

Unlike a pyramid, a network can’t be corrupted or subverted by targeting its leadership. It has no vulnerable center of gravity.

Bitcoin has been making huge waves, recently becoming the center of U.S. Senate Hearings on Virtual Currencies, but we’re likely nowhere near seeing its full and final impact. In many ways, it serves as a proof-of-concept to the world-at-large, a model for future Emergent Network technologies. Some of the most important ones are likely yet to come.

Emergent Networks have seen their first deployments to the battlefield of ideas, the first small victories have been won…

But the pieces haven’t all come together. We have yet to see the Emergent Network version of Blitzkrieg (metaphorically speaking). Advanced endgame strategies and solutions could be decades away, but current progress suggests a much shorter timeline.

Great minds are already tackling these problems, and more are on their way. There will be opportunities for professionals from many different fields to make use of their talents.

Best of all, anyone can contribute. Don’t worry, there’s nothing to sign up for, no donations to make, no paperwork to fill out. Getting started is as simple as changing the way you think, and encouraging others to do the same.

A good friend gave me a simple mantra:

Stop Thinking Pyramid. Start Thinking Network.

Understand that the pyramid owners are not going to like any of this. They’ll seek to undermine this trend – especially when it starts to hit their bottom line. The tide is against them, and it will become stronger as time passes.

So far, they can’t even figure out how to fight, because their entire arsenal of strategies is based on competing with other pyramids. Just like the cavalry officers with tanks, they simply can’t conceive that the fight has changed. That is their weakness.

Their biggest frustrations will come from the networks already forming inside their own pyramids. The best and brightest, the very people they need on their side to win, will be the earliest to abandon their way of thinking.

Ask yourself, can anyone defeat an adversary they are dependent on?

“We cook your meals. We haul your trash. We connect your calls. We drive your ambulances. We guard you while you sleep. Do not fuck with us.”
-Tyler Durden, Fight Club

The Global Financial Crisis – An Opportunity To Shine

It would be a colossal understatement to say that the existing powers have fumbled the current crisis. They can’t even get a Healthcare Website functioning, much less save a crumbling global economy.

Should we really be relying on them? What can a few hundred business and government leaders really do? A problem of this scale is too complex for any group that size, no matter how talented.

If they were stumbling around in the dark with no solution, would they admit it? Probably not.

Why are we waiting for inept politicians to solve our problems, when we already have everything we need to solve them ourselves?

A large enough coalition of leadership and talent could bring forth the resources, strategies, and influence needed to solve any crisis.

This is already happening in a very loose sense, but there is plenty of room for acceleration. Imagine the rapid development of a technology like cryptocurrency, but across multiple technologies and fields, simultaneously…

Some might say “That’s so crazy, it just might work.”

I’d like to think so.

Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

If this idea interests you, I’d like to hear from you. Please follow me on Twitter (link at the top of the page) or contact me at

Thank you.

See: Pyramids, Networks, And The Emergent Weapons Of Cyber War for a real-world case study of the topics discussed here.

  1. Andreas Schuster 11/24/2013, 6:09 AM Reply

    Couldn’t agree more. I have one more item for the list pyramid -> network: representative democracy -> molecular democracy. look at beppe grillo’s m5s movement in italy. he’s leading the way in that respect.

  2. Harodim 11/24/2013, 8:01 AM Reply

    Hands down the best article I have read in a long time. Thank you for sharing, peace be with you.

  3. Nameless 11/24/2013, 11:55 AM Reply

    This is a good piece overall, and I think that most of the statements, the conclusions, the content of it is true. But there are some ideological presuppositions that are suspicious to me.

    For example, its a bit of an oversimplification to treat pyramids as what happened in phase one (natural history) and networks as what happens in phase two (history in a minimal tech level.) There are certainly more phases in the history of organization other than just those two, even though those two are indeed different models of organizing.

    But it’s a bit hasty to throw all previous ways that society has organized itself into “Pyramids.” It’s just not true. It’s just simply false that people have “always, naturally, appointed leaders.” It’s just as false that “Capitalism existed forever, since money” and “We have always been at war with Eurasia.” Emergent networking is one more in a history of a great variety of organizational models.

    By the way, I don’t know if you are aware, but the piece is classically marxist in linking the possible range of organizations to our tech level (not saying that as a bad thing). My rejoinder -there- is to demand clarity: do decentralized, emergent technology and means of comunication, do these things -enable- a range of transformations in organization or do they -entail- these sorts of networks? It is not at all clear which option is true.

    Mostly because… emergent networks have also been of significant interests to the powers that be. The powers that be are fully aware of the difference between situational and categorical game changers, and they definitely want to be in control of the latter. I doubt that emergent networks are -essentially- beyond corruption and being controlled by statists, corporatists, etc.

    The struggle becomes, as the article alludes to, about controlling the new game; this was how imperialism changed the rules of capitalism in the early 20th century. In imperialism, the commodity ceases to be the object of exchange and scarcity. Instead, -capital itself- becomes the commodity, that is, the technology of production -itself- became the internationally scarce commodity, to be granted in small, controlled, doses to developing nations

    So, Wikipedia is a good example here; it IS an emergent network all across the world, and it is a truly amazing phenomenon. Nonetheless, there is a selection bias in what “all across the world” means. In other words, wikipedia is an emergent network out of -what population-?

    For example, wikipedia includes Delhi; but it does not include most of India. Wikipedia does not include either the poor areas of India nor does it include the areas that the Indian government cannot hold control over, which means that this statement: (“Unlike a pyramid, a network can’t be corrupted or subverted by targeting its leadership. It has no vulnerable center of gravity.”) Is right and also very, very wrong.

    Networks may not have a vulnerable leadership, but they definitely have vulnerable centers of gravity. They stand on certain conditions and means of communications that are definitely vulnerable (though they may be more resilient.) That means that the powers that be are more likely to try to co-opt and recuperate new forms of organization (e.g. Emergent Networks) than to assault them directly. Compare: national firewall to national telecom surveillance.

  4. Greg 11/25/2013, 12:17 PM Reply

    Phenomenal article, yet frustrating (personally) all the same. I consider myself an old school industrialist, and have done great things in industry improving upon previous designs and slightly modifying existing protocols and models, yet have yet to bust through the walls of the box I’ve been conditioned to think in. Reading books like freakonomics, atlas shrugged, this article has gotten me questioning paradigms that I’ve always considered as truth yet, I’m presently at the “ecstatic that I’ve glimpsed atlantis, but frustrated that I’m yet unable to grasp or comprehend it” phase.

    • Greatest Instruments 11/25/2013, 3:43 PM Reply

      It helps a lot to know that others have gone through the same phase. I feel as though I’ve aged a decade in the last year alone. I will be doing more articles on “Outside The Box” thinking. It really is a discipline all its own. You might want to check out Mastery by Robert Greene (or any of his books, really). Lateral Thinking by Edward De Bono is also quite outstanding.

  5. I’m extremely impressed with your writing skills as well as with the
    layout on your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself?
    Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to see a great
    blog like this one nowadays.

  6. xxx blu ray 12/03/2015, 4:47 AM Reply

    What’s up, I log on to your new stuff regularly.
    Your writing style is witty, keep up the good work!

  7. Greatest Instruments 04/25/2014, 8:47 PM Reply

    Glad you got something out of it – plenty more to come.