Control versus Innovation

The sci-fi book “FREEDOM TM – everything is under Control, everything”- by Daniel Suarez is rather spooky in the sense that what he described in 2010 is… happening NOW.

Yes, it is a thrilling adventure full of sex and violence and other suspense memes the media love. But in reality symptoms of an underlying and not so visible struggle between global production-consumption corporations that begin to fail (the old recipe’s no longer seem to work) and the upcoming very viable new networked local sustainable communities of civil society & economy.

In the papers on The Foundation for P2P Alternatives  site and discussions I have with its lead author Michel Bauwens this ongoing worldwide battle comes up often: Command & Control versus ‘Reforms & Renewal with a process of Peer-to-Peer Learning and Improvements‘ and all its different notations like conservative vs. progressive. If you study this fight you can see that the evolution of living systems happens with a number of consecutive S shaped learning curves each with a dominant paradigm *) of recipes that work and which is continously confirmed by the participants. Until the exceptions become so overwhelmingly visible that asudden jump is made to the next learning curve. In other words, leaning is a discontinuous process. This applies to children, adults as well as to companies and societies. So during the length of the learning curve new things that can not be fitted directly in the paradigm are IGNORED and disregarded as distractions from the agreed way to do things. Well, in the early phases thisseems understandable. The new paradigm works like a charm and is just getting up steam. Even in Science this conservative groupthink effect is visible. Real breakthroughs are most often made by outliers who see something and dare to publish it outside the peer reviewed journals. This conservatism is very frustrating to innovators who have something that is demonstrably better than that which it wants to replace. Thank heavens the ISOC-IETF has a process of rapid improvements at its core, which the ITU doesn’t have. The frustration of the lack of acceptance and even fierce suppression of new improvements gets bigger and bigger in the last phases (the administration, allocation and control phase) of the learning curve when the paradigm reaches saturation (growth levels off) and seems not to work anymore. So why does the community still keep resisting changes?? Why do we allow Lehman Bros to reappear with nearlyno changes in the rules?

I think I have found the answer (with the help of a discussion with Hans Brons):In organizations in which operational management (NL: beheer) dominate (see above last phases of a learning curve) command & control is THE central process, which rejects changes and innovations, since that would interfere with planning, allocation and provisioning of resources, make things dangerously unstable etc etc. (all ITILfunctions are endangered by such chaos). And we do not want things to collapse right?

To restate this in a less formal way you can recognize in our ICT & Telecom field:

Operational management regards all possibilities of change coming into their view as a FAILURE alarm (NL : STORING !!!) and handle it with a trouble ticket to get itout of their system ASAP.

As a management consultant and network architect I often visited the network management group of companies or ministries. Not with so many words, but their message to me most often was:

” Get out of here fast, do not touch any button on the way out and don’t you dare suggest any changes to the management, since we are busy enough already to keep the complex beast (networks) running as it is “.

That is what I would say if I where them, wouldn’t you. If you were a pilot and in mid flight somebody would come into the cockpit and tell you “you should change to a better pair of wings and he could do that right now” you would kindly ask that person to go back to her seat, right?

The decision to really improve things in the last phase of a learning curve is not up to the operational management but to tactical- and strategic managers. In our fields the transition to FttH, cloud computing and ‘information sharing for constructive cooperation’ for instance is not up to (lobbies of) respective cable telecom operators, ICT dept’s and publishers/ broadcasters is up to governments with a strategic top down vision who look a bit further ahead in the general interest of society than next week.

Waiting for concensus will not work during a time of transitions. In times of crisis people are full of angst. Disobedient Innovators however do not ask permission, they just DO things that can be demonstrate to work. And using networks the constructive changes we professional knowledge workers  help  starting bottom up and peer-to-peer will be unstoppable.

*) examples of such strong often unspoken conservative paradigms in our ICT network fields:

a. I know an telecom operator where nearly all personell keep thinking in terms somewhere deep in their DNA of “phone link timecounting units” while telephony has long since became a computer app.  Some of the younger ones have a new anchor : VPN’s they want to offer us and which we do not need anymore.

b. A network equipment manufacturer deep down still thinks in terms of numbers of E1’s

c. ITU commitees dreaming of bringing back the wonderful ordered world of ATM switching, those where the days wheren’t they?

d cable operators who in each conversation talk about Mbps network access but still think in terms of dB’s and signal/noise ratio’s on coax cables.

In the back of the corporate controlaholic heads (Dilberts bosses) these mental anchors are still very much in place. Yes, those glorious times way back where the days wheren’t they?

But sorry old-boys and -girls we have to move on. The paradigms come and go faster and faster. Unlearn and learn together as fast as you can, or others will !! I hope and pray the upcoming transitions will be without violence. The forces of Life do not need violence, they work with constructive reciprocal connections (“verbindingen”) between people.

jaap van till, connectivist

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