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Edge to Edge (E2E) Communities: Scalable Collaboration vs Dunbar’s Number…

May 3, 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot about the evolution of peer to peer (P2P) and emerging  creation spaces like Hub Australia (where I work) and other co-working-making spaces.

John Hagel, John Seely Brown and Lang Davidson write in the Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion

“The fact that richer knowledge flows and even elements of creation spaces—which are characteristic of the third wave—are now becoming visible on the edge demonstrates the overlapping, rather than sequential, nature of how the Big Shift is unfolding…innovations  to  institutional  architectures  (such  as  the  ability  to  foster  and  participate  in creation spaces where performance accelerates as more participants join). Over time, these  innovations  will  enable  firms  to  develop  and  adopt  new  ways  of  creating  and capturing wealth in the digital era.”

 One of the most exciting parts of my work and study is understanding how we can better connect these emerging creation spaces across boundaries of shared passion and interest (rather than geography, or rather – we need new mental models of geographies).

The wiki-like digital platforms that have been evolving over the past decade as part of the cloud computing revolution hold the promise of scaling new forms of collaborative activity with wikipedia still standing as the best known example of this. One of the challenges I see in this is the anthropological concept of Dunbar’s number – that human beings struggle to maintain more than about 150 stable social relationships at one time. That somewhere around this number, we exhaust our mental and emotional bandwidth to hold that number of faces, names and stories in a way that’s meaningful. Can we evolve systems and capacities beyond this historical upper limit?

I have a feeling that the entrepreneurs currently building these spaces and communities are laying down the infrastructure that will carry the next wave of value creation in the 21st century – what the railroad tycoons did in 19th century and digital entrepreneurs have done over past decades.

As a species, I see us needing to learn how to connect and scale the collaborative potential of these digital-physical spaces of shared passion that sit outside or across currently recognised institutions. The challenge is doing it in a way that doesn’t dilute or corrode the trust built up by the thick bonds of smaller communities of shared experience.

So if the term hasn’t officially been coined yet – keep your eye on E2E – edge to edge communities*.

Part of my PhD data collection next year will explore these spaces in the context of more recent post-industrial economies  and societies across Asia (and hopefully beyond).

I’m certainly looking forward to the adventure of trying to do this 🙂

*This term itself was actually inspired by some excellent futures visioning work around Hub Melbourne currently being led by Adam Jorlen and Helen Palmer



April 20, 2013


Recently I’ve been seeing rhythms as fractal sets across my biology, relationships, work and the planet as a whole.

Thank you to Venita Ramirez for putting me on to this Greenpeace video that beautifully demonstrates such a link between the rhythm of the breath and the natural systems of the planet.

Hacking Learning

March 3, 2013

Beautiful example of the natural ease with which young people can not only see but expect a system to be ‘hackable’.

Great to find such a comfortable fit with the open source civilisation metaphor.

I think Logan’s future looks bright…

The Transcension Hypothesis

January 29, 2013

Over the new years break I began reading the collected works of the singularity theorist and science fiction author Vernor Vinge at the suggestion of my friends and colleagues from Collabforge.

It’s quite an intimate experience reading someone’s life works (especially for some reason when read in chronological order) that span several decades.

Vinge is one of the chief exponents, of the technological singularity. I’d known about Raymond Kurzweil‘s work for over a decade but have come back to consider it again in light of the integral project. A well known concept in futures work is the notion of Moore’s Law (that computational processing power doubles every eighteen months to two years). The exponential rate of this pattern begins to approach infinity at some point. When infinity arises in mathematical physics it’s generally seen as a point of absurdity, a point where the theoretical model breaks down and has no predictive or explanatory power. The big bang and black holes are occasions where Einstein’s General Relativity equations create absurd answers. For this reason they’re seen as event horizons beyond which current theory can’t explain. For all our apparent scientific wizardry, we fundamentally have no idea how the universe works in these contexts (furthermore any observational data seems impossible to collect).

In practical terms the technological singularity is usually posited as the moment when machine-computer intelligence surpasses human. The term singularity is used because we really have no way of being able to predict what that will look like or the consequences for human beings, although it’s often posited as the dawn of the transhuman era.

Vinge wrote his own thoughts on the matter in a 1993 essay called The technological singularity: how to survive in the posthuman era, however most of his writing are novels that consider various scenarios involving versions of the singularity – at least the awakening of meta-biological sentience. In True Names he plays on the old idea from fables that knowing one’s true name gives power over another. Vinge wrote this in 1979 and successfully captured a world that a Julian Assange might inhabit today in terms of power and politics. A group of elite anarchist-hackers that call themselves ‘the warlocks’ meet in cyberspace (the aesthetic of which appears strangely reminiscent of a world of warcraft). One of them turns out to be an AI that two of the protagonists team up to contain. Vinge’s depiction helped kick of the public imagination of cyberspace as an alternative dimension picked up by William Gibson and others.

The trilogy Across real time considers the singularity in light of the Fermi paradox. Put simply, the Fermi paradox follows from the astronomer Frank Drake’s equation– when we do the maths on the numbers of galaxies, stars and habitable planets in the known universe it still comes out at huge numbers of planets that should be able to support life (Drake estimated between 1000 to 100,000,000 technological civilisations in the galaxy). As Carl Sagan said, on probability (unless Earth is particularly unique in some way we don’t understand) the universe should be teeming with life and many of these other planets could be billions of years older than Earth (about 4.5 billion years old in 13.7 billion year old universe). So the Fermi Paradox is – if the galaxy should be full of life that had a head start of millions to billions of years then why is it that we see no evidence of intelligent civilisations? Put simply, where are all the aliens?

Now there are many possible answers to the question (it wouldn’t be a paradox otherwise right?), everything from the UFOs are already here to Michio Kaku’s point that us looking for evidence of a civilisation a billion years more advanced than us would be like ants next to a four lane superhighway looking around for evidence of more advanced life than themselves.

Many renditions of the singularity posit that technology and biology merge in an exponential dance, a fundamental transformation of form takes place, an omega point of obliterating seduction. Its hard to ignore the mythos that’s haunted our culture of such ideas. The technology realised rapture. Nirvana for the nerds. As one of the main characters in Marooned Across Real time says, it was ‘graduation night for humanity’, and we missed it (the premise of the third novel is that a few hundred human beings overshoot the singularity due to technology that allows one way travel into the future and are left stranded and wondering why human civilisation disappeared.) Naturally, many versions of the technological singularity are darkly foreboding for human beings. The dominance of Homo Sapiens as a species didn’t go so well for Neanderthal or Cro-magnon man, and cultural artefacts like Skynet and the Matrix have found their way into common imagination and vocabulary.

One of the more recent ideas that integrates the singularity and the Fermi Paradox is called the transcension hypthosesis. The idea is that contra to our classical science fiction images of intergalactic space operas the direction of civilisation’s evolution is not expansion to outer space but contraction to inner space. In to the world of femto-atto space (it’s actually consistent with Moore’s law as for computational speeds to continue to increase spatial distance needs to become smaller, denser etc). In John Smart‘s version, the destiny of advanced civilisations results in this point of infinite density that we would observe as a black hole.

Part of what I find fascinating about the singularity in general, and the transcension hypthothesis in particular is the whole question of consciousness, intelligence, development and the relationship to moral reasoning?

For a non-technologically driven perspective, I’ve seen developmental psychologist Terri O’Fallon‘s recent research into very late (and rare) stages of adult ego development. She postulates a species jump at the end of the Aurobindo derived stages of her own developmental model. It seems very possible to me that this would be a meta-biological jump, as different from what we now know as the physio-bio-noo-sphere distinctions with which we are currently familiar.

Here’s two videos where John Smart outlines his theory of the transcension hypothesis. 

Part 1

Part 2

On building a new kind of post-westphalian civic economy…

December 26, 2012

This is an edited extract of a post on a private blog as part of a leadership program I’m currently part involved with. The text below is a response I gave to the following question

And this: “Part of building a new kind of post-westphalian civic economy.” Please say more about your vision when you can.”

Yes I guess it sounds a little grandiose when put like that huh?

 I’ll say more about what I mean if you allow me the indulgence to geek out a little.

The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) is usually credited with the beginning of the legal dimension of sovereignty (LR) and provided the frame for nationalist identity to grow (LL). That along with the development of rational-analytical thought, industrial modernity and the social movements and contracts of the 19th and 20th century (free education, eight hour day, suffragette movement, minimum wages, social security, public healthcare etc) the suite of policies that constituted the welfare state gave rise to the middle classes and the remarkable levels of prosperity, security and quality of life that the global north enjoys (and often overlooks in our whining self indulgence 🙂 )

Such policy levers if you like, were framed around and expressed through the nation-state as the fundamental unit of power (the ultimate entity with the ability to influence behaviour, resting on Weber’s observation of sovereignty as the monopoly on the legitimate use of violence). Both the public statements at the leadership level about who we extend care and concern to as a community and the legal and coercive ability to enforce were (largely) bounded by the frontiers of State jurisdiction. Even the Bretton Woods institutions formed after the Second World War as a first blush at global governance were still built solidly around the nation-state architecture and the expression of power currently bound up in those sub-units. I think that’s largely why they’re so defunct today, for the UN to really be effective in some global governance capacity the veto power of the security council’s permanent members would have to shift, and I can’t see the USA, China, Russia, UK or France agreeing to that anytime soon.

Although I can rage against the industrial machine, like a good integral lad, I recognise what it afforded was an incredible bloom in evolutionary terms (I do recognise the deep insight in Geoff’s point about loving the world enough to hold it, especially if you’re interested in changing it). This conversation (much less the ipad i type it on or the latte I’m sipping in between thoughts) is absurd without it. However what I do think happened from the 60s- Silent Spring, Apollo photographs and social movements of that era pointed to the fraying of the modern institutional hems. From the late 1970s onwards the techno-economic architecture allowed business and the powerful, certainly encouraged by the legal and policy dismantling of Thatcher/Regan era, to move beyond the constrictions of State protections and multinational entities to take advantage of the disparity of worker and environmental protection across different legal jurisdictions etc. As many asylum seekers find out in the most brutal of fashions when they turn up to Australia by boat, it’s globalisation for the powerful and the iron fist of State control for the weak.

We now know many of our problems can only be addressed with some kind of global coordination and can’t be solved by any one Nation-State taking action (climate change, terrorism, pandemics, global trade relationships). The incentives for change and action are weak compared to the disincentives (the apocalyptic brouhaha about a pathetically modest carbon tax here being only an easy to point to example). The threat of capital flight (if you try and increase mining taxes for example) is a multinational guillotine hanging over the head of elected national governments. (See Simpol for one take on how to coordinate international policy without the need for an overarching authority).

Now, I don’t think States can (or even should) try and keep regulatory step with the rapidity of the change, I don’t think it’s feasible or desirable to look back to a fictional golden era and I don’t think we want to do anything to slow down innovation. I was one of the first generations in this country to receive environmental and multicultural education from primary school. We grew up being taught a sense of civic responsibility to the planet. We left school to find the vocational options rarely aligned with these sentiments.

“Thus, ideals and idealism fall aside when confronted with the old structure. Apathy and passive aggression results.”

It’s part of the reason so few idealists of my generation go into conventional politics (the ones that do tending to have a pathological desire for power) and tend to start globally focussed NGOs etc.

So, for most of my adult life I’ve been sitting in various corners of the world wondering what I can do about all of this? Try and climb the ladder of institutional power to make some positive changes? Well I gave up on that long ago when I dropped out my first commerce/arts degree, intuiting that these institutions had their own logic very difficult to shift from the inside, and there was a missing piece of the human puzzle (interiors). But I also know there are lots of other people like me, sitting (in various states of under-utilisation) around the world holding the same question, and working as small fish in various capacities. These outliers tend to congregate around the edges (sometimes just the fringes), places like the Hub.

When I look at politics and the general collapse of the Left-Right political philosophy, and the technocratic managerialism that I’ve witnessed in professionals that work in the global governance institutions (UN, WTO, WB), I wonder if a better way to frame the divide is between insiders and outsiders, or the centre and periphery (if we liberate those terms from their Marxist heritage) rather than Left-Right. So how do we join this cognitive surplus up to create a thriving whole much greater than the sum of thier individual and partial impact. How do we make globalisation work for the good, not just the powerful? How do we find a path for collective engagement beyond the anachronistic debates of labour versus markets, technology versus environment etc?

Already new kinds of imagined communities are forming relatively independently of State boundaries, our little cohort just one example. The exchange of ideas and value happens all the time across borders, and the continuing technological innovations (skype, all the emerging cloud based software tools) mean that the ability to coordinate at a global level that was only the domain of the super elite is freely accessible to most folks with a computer and internet access. That’s the post-westphalian part.

We also have significant portions of the population who identify with some kind of global ethics, however they understand or interpret it. The notion of a civic responsibility to humankind, to the civilisation as a whole or to the planet (kosmos?), makes more sense to a lot of folks than provincial local or national identities (and yes I know the reverse is also true) yet as there is no substantive entity or polity to embody and represent these perspectives in the public sphere it tends to get subsumed and silenced by the existing voices of institutional power (I often watch Obama’s speeches with interest as his rhetoric starts to move into the domain of truly global leadership – freedom and dignity for all human beings, climate change etc, but is then pulled back down to the ‘we’re number one jingoisim’ that the rest of the world finds so distasteful…I don’t blame Obama, he has to speak to the logic of the power that puts him there, but it does reinforce the idea that genuine global leadership would have to be couched in different language and voiced through a different entity). The point is, there is a serious number of people on the planet who identify with some kind of global ethics and responsibility beyond what they are legally required to do in the jurisdictions to which they belong. That’s the civic part.

The economic part is the hard part 🙂 The problem is what to do. I see the these globally civic minded outliers scattered across all kinds of sectors and industries, but there tends to be a pattern of frustration with existing institutional culture…so what to do? Become a coach, a consultant, a speaker, a writer an academic? I see this path taken a lot.

But I wonder what actually building a global network founded on a sense of global ethics with the ability to rapidly scale up to meet large challenges, loosely connected by a new kind of institutional infrastructure. . The Hub network has about 40 locations around the world now, and the rhizomes continue to grow at the local level, we have a community of 7000 people largely that have taken on a degree of autonomy about managing their own work situation. From the earliest moments of my engagement, I always saw the oaktree in the acorn of what the Hub network is today. So how do we develop the technological infrastructure and management protocols to join up these little fish…and build a new kind of economy. That’s what I mean when I talk about a post-westphalian, civic economy.

When it comes down to it, most of the reason that I don’t have stable and conventional work is because I spend my time reflecting on and laying the groundwork to set up the above. Everything else feels like a distraction from the the real work. I guess my ambiguity does arise from certainty after all.

I can see however, that the world I describe here is just a story, another narrative thread in the collective tapestry in which we wrap ourselves and the planet. It has its place alongside other stories. But it’s the one I’m working with at the moment…

In my preferred world, I would like to see far flatter organizations, far more globalization (for labour, culture and capital), far more support for family friendly work/culture, and the use of technologies globally to move from fake work, to work that fits into deeper purposes – this is sustainability (the triple bottom line) plus transformation (moving to a global ethics) and creating the legal framework for far more authentic global and local governance. Whether this is possible is a far different story.

-Sohail Inayatullah

On cracked ipads…

December 21, 2012

So I’m trying to download some papers to read over coffee, still a bit tired from the night before and in between shifting on the chair to reach for something I drop my ipad. It hits the floor with an unpleasant crunching sound. After so many get out of jail free moments of ipad abuse my number is finally up. I turn it over and screen is cracked. Fuck. I watch the waves of frustration start to move up my body, projected stories about how much this will cost to fix, watch the fetishisation and attachment to the clean aesethics of the product (apple products seem to get in deep here) ripple across my thought patterns, wonder if it will cost as much to fix as my rent this month…and then smile. Such inconsequence in the context of the simple privilege of being. Noticing how the content of thoughts clouding for a moment the underlying awe at simply being a space in which thoughts arise, being here, being alive, being aware.


I watch a toddler crying until a bubbachino (like a cappuccino with no coffee) is placed in front of her. She grabs a spoon and takes to the task of scooping the froth and chocolate into her mouth and all over herself. There’s a group of Indian men behind her laughing and talking about business deals or what not. Next to me two women sincerely exchanging meaningful looks and nodding in between quiet words.


And the division falls away again into the wholeness of an evolutionary tide. The conceptual boundaries separating events drop off and I can feel each second as the frothy edge of a 13.7 billion year old drama. Both falling forwards and somehow happening all at the same time. Like each moment itself has its own heartbeat, expanding and contracting from millisecond to infinity…


And there’s nothing to do. And nothing left undone. But still. I pay for my coffee and wander upstairs to start the work day.


Dan Hill – Dark Matter and Trojan Horses

December 21, 2012


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Supposedly, Dark Matter makes up 83% of the known universe.

This is an interesting video from Dan Hill (@cityofsound) (with a quick intro from the ever-awesome Stuart Candy @futuryst) about using the concept of Dark Matter in physics as a metaphor for the hidden ‘stuff’ that holds any organisational or institutional change process back. We’ve started drawing on this language a lot in some of the work I’m doing with Collabforge.

Dan plays with the notion of network and hierarchy and how we might consider them not as binary polarities but as integrated dimensions of a process.

It five final points sit comfortably within the open source civilisation framework:

  • the world is mutable
  • prototype public service
  • hinge policy to deliver via stewardship
  • design for scale, system, platform, iteration, interaction
  • matter matters, dark matter matters

The design theme of ‘rapid-prototyping’ ideas (quickly and often) is cost of assessing risk is often greater than the cost of failing. Ultimately he concludes it’s about prototyping new cultures of decision-making.

There’s some interesting slides from the presentation:

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