A social ecosystem for the age of complexity

  • Gael Van Weyenbergh profile
    Gael Van Weyenbergh
    23 November 2017 - updated 1 week ago
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The huge surge in connectedness that came with the internet confronts us with a new threshold of complexity. In a world where change is now the only constant, this new complexity level raises two fundamental questions for social organizations. Not knowing the nature and the scope of the changes that are coming, how do we deal with adaptability on one hand and how do we deal with uncertainty on the other hand. As a result, social organizations must be designed for adaptability as they will have to rely more and more on third-parties that may escape their traditional chains of command and control. Therefore, new societal models would have to include a capacity for resilience and a capacity to exercise trust as a fundamental element of social relationships. As the viability of social organizations depends on their ability to adapt and to co-evolve with the ever-changing societal environment, resolving the questions of adaptability and uncertainty is - in our sense - paramount to the future of human organizations. Indeed, we firmly believe that the structural challenge we are facing today calls for a structural solution.

We propose the combination of two complementary ideas to tackle the challenge of adaptability and uncertainty in human society. The first one is to apply the dynamics of complex systems to the fabric of society. A complex system is simply defined as "a system composed of many components which may interact with each other". Since human society is a complex system in and by itself and since complex systems - such as ecosystems - are optimized for adaptability, the science of complexity provides valuable insights. Yet, there seems to be an extreme difficulty in utilizing the logic of complex systems to aid in restructuring social systems. Indeed, applying the dynamics of complexity to human society offers significant challenges to overcome. In complex systems, structure is emergent. This means that - over time - the multitude of interactions at the local (micro) level gives rise to coherent patterns of organization at the global (macro) level. In complex systems there is also no central coordination, meaning that the system must somehow regulate itself. Considering the versatile nature and conflicting interests of human beings, how can we apply complexity theory to human society?

We attempt to resolve this set of challenges by enlarging our understanding of trust to that of an emotional experience. It is often suggested that the question of trust is paramount to the future of distributed networks and to the future of the "new economy". Yet, what is trust and how is it important for our purpose? Trust is usually defined as a "firm belief in the benevolence, integrity and capability of others". Trusting others is therefore the willingness to enter a position of dependence and vulnerability toward those who are trusted. In other words, trusting others is the willingness to take a risk in order to meet a positive outcome. This risk includes the prospect of being deceived, abused or betrayed. As such, trust is a double-edged sword that is - by necessity - restricted to a limited set of peers with whom we are well acquainted. Indeed, the experience of trust is very fragile. Building trust is a time consuming process. Yet, a breach in confidence can happen in one instant and will affect the future of the relationship. As a matter of fact, trusted relationships are never set in stone and no one is immune to its negative consequences. As such, trusted relationships need to be continuously fed by the experience of emotional resonance and reciprocal behaviors, both in words and deeds. Therefore, trust is fundamentally the expression of shared interests and of interdependence. Because those we trust and who trust us in return is a priceless social asset, and because this asset is never guaranteed other than by emotional resonance and by reciprocity, a social architecture based on the dynamics of trust could provide the systematic incentives to reach and maintain social cohesion at scale without central coordination. 

On the theoretical level, we'd like to open the discussion on the adaptability of human organizations in the digital age. Beginning with our seminal paper, "Transformative Social Ecosystem Dynamics: A psychological architecture of emotional trust", we invite everyone to explore this emergent field of inquiry which may soon affect every domain of society. The core proposal is to stabilize trust horizontally in order to attain and maintain viable thresholds of cooperation at scale beyond the traditional command and control mechanisms. If successful, the model would provide helpful insights to increase efficiency and adaptability at the systemic level, to better assess social impact, and to allow non-linear participation to meet the demands of exponential challenges. Furthermore, it might help to build up the commons, to fuel the collaborative economy with new social dynamics, to anchor social engagement in intrinsic motivations and in group dynamics, to anchor leadership in social recognition, and to provide a robust and distributed alternative for the future of governance.

- Gael Van Weyenbergh, http://www.meoh.io