Ghostbusting

Via 3QD: John Allen Paulos on telling just-so stories about the complexity in an article called “The Mousetrap” in Edge:

“Let me begin by asking how it is that modern free market economies are as complex as they are, boasting amazingly elaborate production, distribution and communication systems? Go into almost any drug store and you can find your favourite candy bar. And what’s true at the personal level is true at the industrial level. Somehow there are enough ball bearings and computer chips in just the right places in factories all over the country. The physical infrastructure and communication networks are also marvels of integrated complexity. Fuel supplies are, by and large, where they’re needed. Email reaches you in Miami as well as in Milwaukee, not to mention Barcelona and Bangkok.

The natural question, discussed first by Adam Smith and later by Friedrich Hayek and Karl Popper among others, is who designed this marvel of complexity? Which commissar decreed the number of packets of dental floss for each retail outlet? The answer, of course, is that no economic god designed this system. It emerged and grew by itself. No one argues that all the components of the candy bar distribution system must have been put into place at once, or else there would be no Snickers at the corner store.”

Future imperfect

Found by Simon Roberts, this FT article on the futility of trend-watching:

The future is unknowable because it depends on people and because people reflect, have will, make mistakes, co-operate and change their minds and ways. The past turns into one of many possible futures through human agency. The way to understand what is happening in the world is not to draw trajectories on paper but to ask what people are thinking and doing in their own lives and collective endeavours.

I think is what most teams that think about ‘futures’ for a living do, however. The outputs of processes such as scenario planning explicitly create ‘many possible futures’ as navigational aids, not pre-plotted courses to be slavishly followed.

Maeda appeal, appeal

John Maeda is offering some limited edition prints on his site to raise funds for victims of the South Asian tsunami. I’d love to buy one, but unfortunately he is only shipping to addresses in the USA.  Would anyone in the US being willing to buy one on my behalf and send it on to Helsinki? (I would pay the additional postage, of course)

UPDATE: thanks to Ben Cerveny, who is sortin’ it for me…