Archives For design of government

I recently moderated a fascinating session at the World Economic Forum ‘Summer Davos‘ in Tianjin, China. Two network scientists, Cesar Hidalgo of MIT and Albert-Laszlo Barabasi of Harvard, discussed the underlying science of how networks operate and how this knowledge might be applied to business and economics.

At the outset of network science a key question was raised: are networks random? If so, all nodes would be more or less similar to each other. But that is not the case. The reality is that certain nodes have more connections than others and play the role of hubs. New nodes in a pre-existing network tend to connect with highly connected nodes. After a certain threshold, the removal of highly connected nodes can make a whole network fall apart. Thus interconnectivity is beneficial but also brings in vulnerability: if you and I are connected we can share resources; meanwhile your problems can become mine, and vice versa. This happens in many different kinds of networks, from financial systems to social media to electrical power grids. Numerous complex systems can be mapped and analyzed, such as transportation and biological systems.

Network science and tools are readily available to shed light on factors that were not considered in the past and to inform decisions in many different sectors and organizations. The adoption of network science and tools for decision-making are especially powerful when designing for complexity. Hidalgo even proposed that the future economic growth of nations can be predicted based on an analysis of networks of production.

In our own organizations, network visualizations and analyses can be used to inform management decisions by looking at how employees connect to each other and how information flows through networks.

Here’s more from the session on the power of networks:

(posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)


This seems an appropriate title under which to resume my commentary on design and design thinking. I do indeed apologize for the lack of posts over the last three months but this is not the primary reason for the choice of title.

I just returned from a visit to Tokyo, a place I have visited more than twenty times over the last twenty years. I was struck this time by the change that seems to be going on in the national psyche as a result of the recent earthquake, tsunami and nuclear emergency. Japanese citizens have lost confidence in their institutions and in response all those institutions seem to be able to do is apologize.

The most striking impression you get on arriving in Tokyo is that it has gone dark. What was once one of the brightest cities on the planet has dimmed significantly as lighting in public spaces has been turned down and escalators in subway stations turned off to conserve power. This dimming seems emblematic of an institutional lack of imagination and resolve. Instead it is Japanese entrepreneurs and business people along with students and the non-profit sector who seem to be leading the charge into the future. I met with a group at the Tokyo University i-school, an interdisciplinary innovation institute based out of the engineering department similar to the Stanford d-school. The students were extremely eloquent in their assessment of the disaster and its impact. Here are a few of their comments:

“Japanese people have increased confidence in themselves but less confidence in the government”

“we have never felt more strongly Japanese”

“to win back trust government needs to be more direct and open”

“government should be a platform for information”

They commented on how important social networks, and in particular Twitter, had been in allowing them to share more information and bypass the government. I left thinking that this elite group of students who would normally head off to the major corporations or into government might just decide to take a different, more entrepreneurial direction with their careers.

At a meeting of TEDx Tokyo organizers and others concerned with promoting ideas about positive change in Japan I heard a similar message of needing to support the new generation in their desire to be entrepreneurial. The conversation centered on how to create networks that supported the implementation of new ideas. Ideas that might make a difference to the areas effected by the disaster and Japan as a whole. This seemed to me to be the nub of the issue. We have developed networks that very effectively promote new ideas. How do we move to creating networks that support getting those ideas done? Networks of action are far harder to establish than networks of conversation. What are the key principles for establishing them? How can the social web enable more people to get more stuff done?

I left Japan feeling that the old institutional hierarchies were left wanting at a time of crisis (and let’s not forget we had the same experience with Katrina) but that while we have the beginnings of a new social network driven alternative we still have some design to do.

Design nations

October 31, 2010 — 13 Comments

Singapore at Night

I am off to Singapore in a week for my first visit. I have been invited by the government to give a talk on design thinking and meet with various government and business leaders to talk about the role of design thinking at a national level.

It is interesting to think about national scale design and innovation policy and the person who I believe has done most with this is John Kao with his I20 group of 25 national innovation leaders. There seems to be a group of small to medium size countries that are committed to building innovation infrastructure to drive economic growth and I wonder what are the key elements for success in this endeavor?

Finland is a great example of a country that has done many of the right things. It has an integrated design and innovation policy and has created new institutions like Aalto University to facilitate greater cross-disciplinary collaboration. What is not clear is whether this is actually generating increased numbers of innovative companies or increased economic growth.

I have been wondering whether top down government policy is what really makes the difference or whether instead there are emergent characteristics that determine a nation or region’s success in the global innovation economy. When I look at places that have generated significant innovation in the past- London, New York, Paris, Silicon Valley, Florence, Rome, they all seem to have been successful ‘fusion cities’ (or regions) that benefited from ideas flowing in from the outside and the interaction of diverse populations. That’s why I think cities like Singapore, Shanghai and Mumbai may one day be seen as equally productive innovation hotspots. Each of these cities has the opportunity to help translate ideas and forces that exist in the world for the rapidly expanding Asian market. The mix of ‘outsiders’ and ‘insiders’ helps ideas mutate in the way that they must to create relevant innovations.

How will the western concept of brand mutate to serve Asian markets? How will the idea of social networking mutate within the community minded societies of Asia? Will social entrepreneurship be different in Asia? Will there be Asian Einsteins and Steve Jobs’?

I wonder whether these and many other questions will be answered by cities like Singapore that actively promote a fusion of outside and inside and that are positioned as hubs in the Asian network?

Redesigning California

December 30, 2009 — 5 Comments

CA flag

There is a move afoot to hold a constitutional convention in California. The purpose is to address some of the issues that are causing complete gridlock in the governance of the state. Given the successive budget crises and the seeming inability to think about long term and strategic issues, as well as the worrying erosion of infrastructure, this would seem to be a good idea. Certainly as a resident of the state, I wonder how far things will have to degrade before regions like Silicon Valley lose their allure and innovation moves to more attractive environments.

So this seems like an opportunity for some redesign. But my question is will any design thinking actually happen? Is it possible to include creative and divergent exploration in such an initiative? Having watched the zero-sum negotiations taking place in Copenhagen around climate change and the US Senate around health care reform I have my doubts. And yet without some new ideas I wonder whether there is any chance of achieving significant improvements. Could the run up to the constitutional convention include a series of design activities statewide that provide a selection of new ideas for the delegates to consider? I think it would be worth experimenting.

The organization behind the call for the convention is called Repair California and you can find out more here.