Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

Why coevolving?

The question of the relationship between technology and human social systems can be seen as a matter of coevolution.  That is the genesis of this discussion of factors and implications involved in coevolving technologies and human social systems. 

Technological tools and organizational methods have been coevolving rapidly over the past two hundred years as the world’s population has grown from an estimated one billion people in 1800 to six billion people in 2000. Technological tools, ranging from steam engines to electricity, from automobiles to airplanes, from telephones to computers are all ways of helping people accomplish work. Organizational methods, ranging from factories to assembly lines, from M-organizations to franchises, from call centers to outsourcing are ways of organizing and managing people and other resources to accomplish work. The rapid coevolution of these technological and social innovations creates a number of challenges for businesses and other enterprises.

The world of business today is increasingly competitive and uncertain.  Managers are faced with decisions about outsourcing and cost cutting, business process integration and productivity, partnerships and investments for growth. These are issues at every level from departments to business units, from enterprises to industries, and from regional to global economic planners. 

These issues of complexity, competitiveness, and uncertainty can be elevated to an overarching concern for enterprise sustainability. An enterprise can be any human social system, including business, government, and a whole range of non-profit and NGO institutions. These institutions are what sustain human life, and in turn they depend on the interplay of human intervention in the natural environment for their sustanence.

In the past fifty years with the rise of digital computing, the information technology (IT) industry has grown to be key provider of tools for business growth, driving business productivity, automation, and opening up numerous new business niches and models. There is a continuous feedback of business needs and opportunities to technology requirements, and from technology advances
to new business opportunities. Waves of innovation from mainframe, to minicomputer, to personal computers, to the web and mobile computing and communication stand out, as do any number of businesses that helped create or benefited from these waves of innovation.

In a few short years the ability of small local enterprises to reach out to achieve global presence has exploded, clearly enabled by technology.  Put simply, modern businesses could not exist without complex technology, and complex technology could not exist without modern businesses. They have coevolved to depend on each other.

This is an introduction to the topics to be explored here, at least from my point of view.  For a wide-ranging discussion of coevolving business and technology, I suggest that you take a look at the following site, and its attendant links. 

http://almaden.ibm.com/coevolution/

3 Comments

  • This view seems a bit dark, and it’s hard for me to judget whether it’s intentional, or not.

    Greg Lowes has brought up an issue that a lot of management discussions today seem to be centered on the idea of “pain removal”. This may be a result of the perceived inertia of today’s business executives, whereby they’re not motivated act, unless there’s some pain ahead.

    Maybe we’re spending too much time around technologies of domination that we’re forgetting that advances in technology and human social systems can be fun. One example is video games — not that I play them, but my sons do — which are turning out to not be solitary mindlessness, but instead social settings around which friends can meet. (There’s something charming about a board game, but when my son starts asking about configuring hubs for local games, other friends start bringing computers to the house, as opposed to playing at a distance, over the Internet.

    Of course, there’s the side effect that my sons don’t watch broadcast television anymore …. They do go to movie theatres, so the value of watching or not watching network television is purely a subjective judgement.

  • I think the term ‘coevolving’ can be a bit misleading. Human social systems have always come first, while technology second. This has been true for the past two hundred years as well as the past two thousand. If there is anything human social systems ‘coevolve’ with, it most likely would be our natural surroundings. We coevolve with plants, ants and other living species. But all of us work to redesign, redistribute, the physical and psycological resources already available to us. We do this through new technology. In other words, technology is the means to an end, no the end itself.

  • The patterns of interrelationships among humans today vary widely. Much more so than 100 or even 50 years ago or,more recently, with the proliferation of cell phones. Obversely, one can find much evidence regarding how new patterns of social interactions fostered advancements in technologies (else why Rt. 128 and Silicon Valley).

    A major mismatch occurs in the evolution of the interplay between technology advancements and new patterns of human interaction This because technology advancement tends to exhibit an exponential characteristic (although with local stochastic shocks) whereas changes in patterns of human interactions exhibit second order differences characteristics. Highly visible behaviors that result include “near-Luddite” suppression of new technology adoption and the fact that most truly disruptive innovations come from outside the established leaders in any industry (unless the sight of the gallows clears the mind).


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