September 7, 2009

Lunch: Pasta agli spinaci, Coniglio al forno con patate, insalata & Frutta

Siesta time here at the Palazzo Feltrinelli (pictured here from the breakfast table) and time to reflect on a fascinating morning. A minor humiliation at lunch. I was engaged in a wonderful eclectic conversation with Peter Allen, John Odling-Smee and Geoffrey Hodgson which ranged from determinism through causality to the personal proclivities of Prigogine. I was so engaged that I took my share of baked rabbit onto the base of the dinner plate, much to the amusement of the catering staff when the came to clear the table.

A series of eight presentations, plus an introduction before lunch is just too rich to conference blog, so I'm going to attempt a high level summary here. Pierpallo Andriani (who stands along with Max Boisot in the list of interesting people who introduce me too interesting ideas and people) starts by summarising the potential of exaptation to enable an understanding of radical innovation, speciation, emergence of niches in economic, creativity & entrepreneurship. He was followed by an excellent summary of exaptation and its place in evolutionary theory, material on conceptual blending & innovation, the role of modularity, the inevitability of heterogeneity, cancer treatment and open source software. An incredible mix, full list belowI'm the last speaker on Wednesday with a responsibility to respond/summarise.

So what did I learn? Well in no particular order, and an incomplete summary anyway ….

  • I need to go back and read some of Darwin's notebooks in which the ideas of evolutionary theory (some more radical and modern that were published in Origin of the Species) were expounded early and in secret. His early recognition that imperfections (a man's nipples) showed that evolution was more about adaptive contingency. The Tree (Coral) of life drawing in Notebook B July 1837 on adaption and his “absurd to the highest degree” comment on the difficulty of accounting for the sophistication of the human eye by staged evolution.
  • Sub-optimality of adaption is due to constraints, current use does not always correspond to historical origins.
  • Ex-aptation and Ad-aption, the way in which the former accounts for evolution of the mind and cultural evolution along with the evolution of unselfish behaviours. I love this stuff, complexity theory gives us a whole new take on old problems like objective ethical values, free will and the like. In parallel a lot of evolutionary theory is giving us radical new insights into human systems beyond the obviously (deliberate choice of words there) biological.
  • Evolution does not require one thing to kill off another, they can happily bumble along in a messy way for a period of time, opening up new possibilities.
  • Natural selection is a powerful process, but it is constrained by messy tradeoffs both internal and external. The idea that unconstrained markets can solve economic issues is a mistaken view of evolution.
  • Ideas don't just defuse by contagion, there has to be an underlying cognitive process to make it possible.
  • The Toyota KanBan system can be understood as a conceptual blend of Ford's linear production and a supermarket. Generating ideas like wildfire at this point for new innovation methods. If we isolate the traits of any system at a fine grained level then we should be able to blend for coherence to create novel forms in a purposeful way (Cognitive Edge innovation methods will get refreshed from today).
  • Importance of modularity (I argue objects is a better phrase) for blending and innovation. Need for some structure for things to move forward. Magnetron developed for radar moves sideways to microwave ovens as an example, its the modules that blend not the underlying concepts. Thinking now of different levels of phases of innovation process that we could institute using SenseMaker™ as a clustering device.
  • Function follows form (exaptation); form follows function (adaptation). Two simple statements but a lot of depth there
  • Growth leads to bifurcation, which leads to symmetry breaking so new characteristics emerge
  • Need to live forwards rather than post-rationalise in management science
  • Origami as an example of emergence, paper folding creates multiple forms. Molecules fold to form enzymes, we are all the result of nature playing origami
  • Micro-diversity is key to change
  • Evolution within a sub-system occurs from instability. Either something invades from the outside, or the inside. For advantage to be taken the sub-system must have components that together produce an emergent capability, the environment must reward that capacity and all of this is a definition of synergy
  • Any novel behaviour must start as a single instance
  • A mutation is commonly considered to be either lethal or beneficial, but this does not correspond with reality. It can take many generations to remove deviances, and you loose a lot of good stuff at the same time.
  • Cancer cells change their environment; they are less metabolically efficient that normal cells, so they make the change to gain advantage. To communicate with cancer (fascinating ideas here) we need to speak the language of embryos.

Monday's Pre-lunch Programme

Telmo Pievani (h. 9:00)
“From Darwinian pre-adaptation to exaptation by Gould-Vrba: history of a concept”

Massimo Warglien and Anna Comacchio (h. 9:40)
“Conceptual blend and the innovation process”

Pierpaolo Andriani, G. Carignani and Jack Cohen (h. 10:00)
“Innovation in biology and technology: exaptation precedes adaptation”

Peter Allen (h. 10:20)
“Complexity: the Inevitability of Heterogeneity and Exaptation”

Bruno Murari (h. 11:20)
“Technical developments and functional shifts in the evolution of MEMS”

Pier Mario Biava (h. 11:40)
“A New Vision of Cancer Treatment Based on Complexity Model”

Fiorello Cortiana (h. 12:00)
“Information and exaptation”

Cedric Thomas (h. 12:20)
“Commercial open source software and the commoditization catalyst”.


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