people connected worldwide

The world today is punctuated by networks. People around the world are tied into the lives of their family, friends, and colleagues through technology-based networks, and that has changed the way things work. The more interconnected lives and networks become, the more information you have at your disposal. From friendships to business operations, being tied into a network provides a wealth of information that influences everything from what social events you attend to the business decisions major corporations make, the political moves made by the highest officials, and overall market trends across the board.

Forget Cause and Effect

The connected world is more complex than old assumptions like cause and effect or balances of power. Business leaders, politicians, and everyday people need to look past ideas of deterrence and defence to make informed decisions that take into account the role of each player in the network. Specifically, it is important to look at how the network shifts in response to each player.

Chaos Theory in Action

The idea is founded on the chaos theory of disruptive innovation. First pioneered by Clayton M. Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor, “chaos” concepts can be applied to the interconnectedness of networks in the modern age. For example, changes in political systems and financial markets do not take place in a linear fashion — the way that a simple cause-and-effect hypothesis would suggest — but rather, they happen as a fast sequence of events that billow out spherically from specific actions.

Growing Complexity

“Theories that involve only armies and diplomats don’t have much use,” explains Joshua Cooper Ramo, co-CEO of Kissinger Associates and former journalist, when “confronted with the peculiar nature of a financially interconnected world, where danger, risk and profit are linked in ways that can be impossible to spot and manage.”

Further complicating the matter, is the issue of complexity. As the world becomes more interconnected, the networks themselves become more complex. “The systems never get simpler. There was no moment at which they would evaporate or condense into a single, easy-to-spot target,” Ramo writes in his book, “The Age of the Unthinkable.”

Consequences of Connectedness

Ramo explains the consequences of connectedness in detail in his book “The Seventh Sense.” To Ramo, networks “emerge when nodes—which can be composed of people, financial markets, computers, mobile devices, drones, or any lively and connectable object—link to other nodes.” The issue is further complicated by whether a network is opened or closed.

“There are certain reasons networks want to be closed, which have to do with their efficiency,” Ramo said in an interview with The Atlantic. “If they’re totally open they become so inefficient that they stop growing. … The essential locus of control in any network system is the role of the gatekeeper.”

Chaos Theory Meets Network Theory

In many ways, this is the connection between the chaos theory and networks theory. In the former, the idea is that a small change can have a big impact, like ripples in a pond or the flapping of a butterfly causing a wind storm. These seemingly little differences mean that individual contributions cannot be discounted, no matter how large a network or system. Network theory can help define these chaotic connections, explaining that the chaotic action of the individual causes ripples along ties that can be identified and defined.

Putting It Together

With this in mind, thinking about things in this nontraditional way of thinking can provide insights into how and why certain things happen. People need constant updates and communication of what’s happening within their networks, and even competing networks, to fully understand the implications of their actions and those of others within the system. Having access to a large network, such as through a social media platform like Twitter, can provide a catalyst toward political events, even though the two are seemingly unrelated.

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