The Dragonfly Effect
Technological and global trends suggest organizations today are facing systemic challenges. Uber and Airbnb have overturned the transportation and hotel industries worldwide. Google is not just a search engine, and Amazon is not just an online bookstore. Google has changed the research habits of people around the world, while Amazon has forced many brick and mortar bookstores out of business and is penetrating into every nook and cranny of modern life. One venture by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin, is leading the transition from government to private space development.
When equipped with digital devices, workers seem to change in ways never imagined. In close observation, there appears to be hidden structure that brings out the unexpected in these people. Their strategies seem to be transparent, yet unpredictable. Their organizations are continuously evolving, and their ecosystems appear to be self-organizing. There is a purposefulness behind their efforts taking them to new directions. This emergence of unexpected structure occurs even in conditions of chaos. For instance, social media permits understanding the untold stories of how immigrants survive in foreign lands, which can reduce crime and help immigrants assimilate into a foreign culture.
In digital workplaces it is common to observe the emergence of work structures, unforeseen methods, and the recognition of root problems that require attention, yet could not be seen within the old regime. An equipped, smart, mobile worker requires an organization that supports communication from the site to his desk and allows the integration of work while attending to personal needs. For example, GPS navigation systems help FedEx and UPS workers take optimized routes for delivery and pickup. An airplane contractor can independently schedule complex cleaning and catering systems that adhere to stringent regulations. These emergent systems dynamic are by nature. Digitalization brings governance back to the operating core that matters, changes work structure from the bottom up, and leads to new decisions from the top.
Biological ecosystems demonstrate the process of emergence. The transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly is one of the best metaphors to explain systemic change. The cells in the caterpillar’s body somehow undergo a complete transformation, or metamorphosis. Awareness of this process helps us to understand how groups of producers and consumers are transformed into new economic ecosystems. Where clusters of people form, there is a swarm effect. It is easy to trace such emergent patterns of swarm activity in mobile, smartphone, and instant messaging systems like Twitter to identify a medical epidemic or a political crisis.
The authors of "The Dragonfly Effect" highlight how the power of digitalization can dramatically reorganize a social system. When a great many Asians were struggling with almost certain death from leukemia, a research team used social media to recruit more bone marrow donors. The results were of seismic magnitude. Focusing on goals, grabbing attention and engaging people to take action brought a flood donors for bone marrow transplants that solved the problem in a remarkably short period and at an unprecedented scale. This ability to move quickly in whatever direction is needed is what the authors called “the dragonfly effect.” (Aaker, Jennifer & Smith, Andy, 2010)
In the learning-centered environments of the digital world, good facilitators can uncover students' learning patterns. Students normally tend to do what they are told, and faculty adhere to course objectives. But in carefully crafted and facilitated environments, the emergent rhythm of a course can change the curriculum and teaching methods to focus on what matters to students in their daily working lives. Recognizing the value of new knowledge and practice, as well as learner preference, requires thinking in frameworks that don’t limit the student’s abilities and potential to grasp beyond teaching in the classroom.
The university's expanded mission, to foster creative work environments, converts student resistance into the emergence of new learning and teaching models. This newfound ability has enabled Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to come a long way, from the older MIT Open Course Ware to Coursera and Udemy as we know them today. It is not surprising to see individuals passionate about creating schools that cover a much wider range of social topics not addressed by a traditional curriculum.
The shift to digital perspective
s is the key to adaptive behavior. It is required by any organization that fosters innovative practices as a norm rather than an exception. Trying to do this only when a need arises is ineffective. It leaves out those who don’t dare undertake the journey and can lead to disastrous outcomes. A child who questions can be seen as an annoyance who disturbs order in the home. One can also view the inquisitive child as being on a journey to new horizons. Understanding this view of digital emergence is a critical need for organizations today.
To be continued in Part II.
Canton, James. (© 2015). Future smart: managing the game-changing trends that will transform your world.
Aaker, Jennifer & Smith, Andy. (© 2010). The dragonfly effect: quick, effective, and powerful ways to use social media to drive social change.
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