Thursday, August 18, 2005

A while back, Dr. Barnett and Critt Jarvis entered in to a "strategic alliance" between The New Rule-Sets Project and Enterra Solutions, which is the baby of Stephen F. DeAngelis to develop " Enterprise Resilience Management"(TM). It would seem to be at once a concept, a service and a systemic software tool for organizations to efficiently manage dynamic changes in regulations, security, information flow and market environment. From Enterra's website:

"Resilient organizations turn security, compliance, information integration and business process management from non-strategic cost items into the strategic components of a sustainable competitive advantage. The positive benefits of Enterprise Resilience Management™ range from increased valuation, marketability and corporate responsibility to a lower cost of insurance and lower total cost of ownership. Additionally, ERM assists in lowering potential damage to an organization's reputation and critical assets. This helps to create internal controls and solutions that protect senior executives and organizations from legal liability."

The target demographic are corporations, government agencies and militaries. I'm not qualified or familiar enough to discuss the software aspect but I find the focus on " Resilience" to be very important conceptually. DeAngelis has written about his ideas on cultivating organizational resilience here and here. Like Tom, DeAngelis is a visionary writer so his pieces tilt toward shifting your perspective on old worldviews and like Dr. Barnett he understands that freely evolving complexity in systems has significant ripple effects - hence his making " resilience" the core of his philosophy.

Why is this important ? " Resilience" in free scale networks refers to how resistant the network is removal of its nodes ( removing a node lowers the efficiency of the network by increasing the distance between nodes or disconnecting them entirely). Corporations, government agencies - all groups in fact - are networks. Because most formal organizations in American society still carry the structural and cultural legacy of the industrial revolution they tend to be hierarchical, vertically-organized, culturally-rigid and are less than resilient. Take out key actors - the " nodes" -and institutional paralysis ensues. Possibly collapse.

So the Enterra-NRSP partnership is really selling network efficiency and survivability. In PNM terms, engineering a robust defensive capability against System Perturbations that would allow an organization reeling from cascading effects to " bounce back" from an attack. As I said earlier, resilience a key concept and quality in terms of importance. But what about...offense ? Or expansion of the network or the network's radius of influence ? What about structuring an organizational network to gear its behavior, culture and strategic thinking in terms of "Consilience " as well ?

Consilience was a term rescued from obscurity by Edward O. Wilson, the famous sociobiologist in his book of the same name that means a " jumping together" or unity of knowledge. Consilient thinkers look for the common underlying Rule-sets in disparate phenomena ( all phenomena at their most ambitious) - like Horizontal thinkers they are seeing connections across domains but the interests of Consilient thinkers are directed at the root level - the fundamental laws, principles and axioms applicable to all domains. In Wilson's words:

"The trend cannot be reversed by force-feeding students with some of this and some of that across the branches of learning; true reform will aim at the consilience of science with the social sciences and the humanities in scholarship and teaching "

You can't get a whole lot more horizontal than that ! What would be the advantages of building " Consilience" in to a network's structure, system and culture ?

How consilience would be designed in terms of software applicatons is something far beyond my ken but it would seem to be a fruitful conceptual field to explore.


Jeremiah of Organic Warfare, who consistently has interesting material and provocative opinions on his blog, is on a related tangent here.

I think resilience can occur naturally when the network is formed along lines favorable to its environment, and not according to preconceived notions of what the organization should look like which are then imposed upon its environment by force. This process of growth is similar to the formation of bacterial colonies.

If you haven't already read this, look here
for an article I wrote on the subject.

Your blog is great by the way.
Hi Jeremiah,

Thank you very much.

I agree. Your point is well taken, When social networks form spontaneously, " naturally" as it were, they would likely tend to fit the environment ( and be " fitter" in a Darwinian sense)and have higher degrees of consilience and resilience.

Then there are networks that are intentionally constructed with a political or economic purpose in mind from the start. As you said, to impose something on the environment " by force".These entities can often be out of sync with the overarching Rule-sets of the environment - Soviet central planning under GOSPLAN for example - and as a result they reap a lot of friction and unintended consequences.

I'll go check out your link....
Hi mark,

Interesting post. The idea of 'resiliency' is important in scale-free networks. While there are many nodes in any sort of complex network, whether social, business, electronic (i.e. Internet), biological (food webs, metabolic processes, etc.), or other, what makes a network scale-free is that some small number of the nodes have many more links than the vast majority of nodes (which only have a few links). These highly linked nodes are the hubs of the network, and in some sense are responsible for holding the network together.

From the standpoint of software, perhaps the biggest fear is the computer virus wiping out a company's computer network. Of course, the obvious choice is to hit the network servers and routers, which are the hubs. And these hubs are the most obvious parts of the network to protect. But what one cannot forget is that if nodes on the periphery are infected, it is very difficult to kill the virus completely. I wrote about this in terms of an al Qaeda type network at

Now add in Wilson's idea of 'consiliency.' How can a network make use of fundamental principles from a variety of fields to enhance the performance of the entire network? In everyday terms, to me this almost sounds like multitasking. One needs to have members of the network who have studied and are trained in multiple fields, or small numbers of individuals who know something about a lot of different fields...research shows this multitasking tends to *reduce* productivity if you take the individual route. I may be a bit off on this, but in network theory, there is a hierarchical structure to some real networks that was discovered in ~2002. There are naturally forming, self-emergent networks within networks. There is still a scale-free mathematical structure to the more complex networks, and they are now called modular networks. A large company does this by having different departments, which by themselves are networks of workers. But the hubs, department managers, perhaps, are the links between the departments (modules) to form an ever more complex structure. The Internet and biological cell are naturally occurring modular networks, and the more people look, the more this structure is found in real networks.

Modularity makes use of a variety of local information for the global success of the overall network. THe fact that this occurs naturally through the evolution of many types of networks is intriguing. Perhaps this is what Wilson's intuition was telling him. If I were a manager, I suppose I would encourage interaction between my department and others, to cross-feed each other with our knowledge and find out how to push the boundaries of our business.

This is one thing I wish happened more in schools, as Wilson also suggests in education, because teaching techniques and methodologies can be used across disciplines and subject areas...this seems to be an efficient and effective way of promoting horizontal thinking, because teachers can break away from 'standard' ways of teaching our own subject and learn some new ways of teaching from someone else in a different department. We need to take advantage of the departmentalized, intellectually specialized modules in such networks in order to help find new insights and breakthroughs.
Excellent post. Apologies again for the antisocial blog behavior lately.

To back of Von, Stuart Berman has written similarly on firewalls.

Mark, sometimes a fast OODA cycle can be bad if an organization is attacked when it is already engaging in self-destructive behavior. Very slow OODA cycles can lead to victory, too.
Hey Dan,

Don't worry about it. Sometimes a lighter blogging schedule or a total break is very healthy. Blogging can feel like a treadmill or it can be very stimulating. Sometimes both at once !
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In search of the best

Ask.com, Answers.com outperform more popular Web engines

Even as they become more savvy, the Internet's leading search engines still sometimes bog down in befuddlement when a specific kernel of knowledge is sought.

Hoping to fill the gap, Answers.com (from GuruNet Corp.) and Ask.com (from Ask Jeeves Inc.) have pledged to provide more adept responses to vexing but straightforward questions about history, science, geography, pop culture and sports.

Both search engines aim to provide a correct answer explicitly at the top of a search's first results page -- or with a highly placed link to a Web page that contains the information.

Their mission raises a question: Just how knowledgeable are these search engines?

To find out, I staged a very unscientific test consisting of questions culled from a recent edition of Trivial Pursuit.

My mock game pitted the avowed prowess of Answers.com and Ask.com against the Internet's most widely used search engines -- Google, Yahoo and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN.

The findings: Answers.com and Ask.com appear to be a small step ahead of Google and noticeably smarter than Yahoo and MSN when dealing with such esoteric questions as "What glass beads are created when a meteorite strikes the Earth's surface?"

Both Answers.com and Ask.com guided me to the correct answer (tektites) with the first link on the results page -- an aptitude that both sites displayed with 10 of the 20 questions posed in the theoretical game. When they didn't get the answer with the very first link in response to some questions, both search engines generally came through within the next two links.

Although they performed similarly in our game,-Answers.com and Ask.com rely on different formulas.

Answers.com relies on a combination of Google's search engine and human editors who have stoked its database with answers to frequently asked questions that they've obtained by poring through reference materials.

Ask.com, part of a Web family about to be acquired by e-commerce conglomerate InterActiveCorp for $2 billion, has devised a fully automated approach that fishes through the Internet's sea of information.

Although they are superior to the other search engines at this task, Answers.com and Ask.com rarely realized their ultimate goal -- making things as clear-cut as possible by summarizing the correct response at the very top of the results page so it wouldn't be necessary to click on a link and peruse another Web site.

Ask.com spit out a concise "Web answer" in just two of the 20 questions, while the only time that Answers.com delivered was when I sought the definition of "googol." (It's the number one followed by 100 zeros.)

Google, which drew its name from that mathematical term, fared reasonably well in the competition. The Internet's most popular search engine came up with the correct answer on the first link in eight of the 20 questions (including the one about tektites). That's something Yahoo did just five times and MSN only twice.

None of the sites was omniscient. Answers.com, Ask.com and Google each drew blanks on three questions (I considered it a miss if a link to the correct answer didn't appear within the first three pages of results). Yahoo and MSN each whiffed on six questions.

There was only one question that baffled all the search engines, "Who was the first Cuban defector to play in Major League Baseball?" Although they all contained references to him in their indexes, none of the search engines could figure out it was Rene Arocha, a pitcher who first signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in the early 1990s.

Though it lagged behind the other search engines in this competition, MSN looked brilliant on one question that stumped all the other search engines: What company was acquired in the biggest leveraged buy-out deal of all time? The first link on MSN's results page took me to a site that correctly listed RJR Nabisco.

The test also revealed the disadvantage of depending on search engines -- they sometimes point to sites with conflicting answers.

This occurred most frequently when I asked how many viewers watched the series finale of the TV show M*A*S*H. The search engines pointed to Web sites that variously listed the audience at anywhere from 105.9 million to nearly 125 million. Trivial Pursuit lists the answer as 121.6 million.

To paraphrase M*A*S*H's theme song, searching for online answers still isn't painless.

About the Author: Michael Liedtke

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