Three recent posts have shared a common theme: systems failure.

In The Inevitable Collapse of Systems, failure comes about from adding increasing layers of complexity. To begin with, introducing more advanced capabilities can lead to dramatic improvements in a system. But those advanced capabilities then enable you to do more… and more… and more. And then you start stretching the system beyond its natural limits. Any financial organisation – be it a bank or a government – that spends more than it receives on the basis of predicted future earnings are increasing their risk of collapse. When the predictions are made on top of other predictions, the risk rises exponentially.

In Institutions will always resist change, failure comes from trying to prevent a system from changing.The media industry is the current most obvious example. Few people have the luxury of being paid a recurring license for their work. The carpenter is not entitled to a fee every time someone sits on the chair, let alone when they resell it on eBay. For a moment in time, it was possible to control distribution of popular music. An industry arose and profited well from those conditions. Now the conditions have changed.

In The best person in the job? people are beginning to question whether or not we need more diversity at the top of systems, where the decisions get made. The UK government is facing an election. Just before parliament was dissolved to begin the election process, a bunch of new legislations were rushed through and approved, without proper debate and many of the 300 MPs – the people doing the voting on behalf of 60 million people who will be affected by the legislation – saying they don’t understand the content of what they are voting on. That is not a good sign.

Systems collapse when you either try to stretch them beyond their natural boundaries, or you try to create artificial boundaries to contain them and bend them to your will. History shows either strategy carries a high risk of catastrophic failure. History also shows it tends to be a small group of people making the decisions that affect so many others.

Enter social media.

…it’s astonishing that the Twitter data is so basic but powerful compared to the teeming complexity of the HSX prediction market; there, bettors typically rely on lots of variables, such as Hollywood’s voluminous exit polls and focus group results, and intuitions about past performance, which the market then aggregates.

That quote is from a recent article on about how simply tracking the words thousands of people are using on Twitter can help predict the success of a film as accurately as a complicated algorithm developed a few experts.

…you don’t need a hit to survive.  There is a place in the middle, that is not very far away from the tail, where you can at least make a living. That mid-way haven is called 1,000 True Fans. It is an alternate destination for an artist to aim for.

That quote is from Kevin Kelly’s 1’000 True Fans. Whilst it focuses on The Long Tail economic model that applies to most forms of media, it talks about the dirty little secret the Music Publishing Industry doesn’t want to discuss. That artists can make a good enough living if they are good at what they are do, just like everyone else, without needing a recording deal. (Hat tip to Ian Blyth for tipping me off about this statistic whilst sharing a fine bottle of wine 🙂 )

Anyone can propose a particular bill or piece of legislation. If enough signatories are gathered, it is automatically put to an online vote, and if carried, parliament is compelled to discuss it. There is no obligation for MPs to vote for or against the motion, but they are compelled to discuss and vote on the subject, guaranteeing that an issue that is popular cannot be ignored.

That quote is from the January edition of Wired UK – Let’s Reboot Britain – which discussed various suggestions for improving the country’s prospects. The quote is from an article by Jamie Murray Wells who proposed four ideas for making government a little more democratic, as opposed to just being democratically elected.

All three quotes are from ideas involving social media.

The power of social media is that people are finding their voices, regardless of status. That diverse range of thought and opinion can be connected and tapped into in ways that were inconceivable barely a decade ago. Systems that learn how to leverage social media when making fundamental decisions will be far better protected from failure than those that don’t.

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