"The Chaos Imperative", written by Ori Brafman and Judah Pollack has got to be one of the best books I have gone through this year.
I recall going through 'The Starfish and the Spider' about a decade ago, so I had somewhat of an idea of what to expect in terms of the writing style and how Ori (in particular) would tackle the subject at hand.
Now, during the past couple of decades a lot of interesting work has been done specially when it relates to the subjects of innovation, creativity and even disruption.
However, what has been missing is some kind of a unified mechanism and principles for harnessing these elements. Although, this is not the intent of this book. That being said, some of the concepts that Ori has shed light upon, could potentially lead to some interesting constructs and way of looking at problems in the near future.
Now, there are some really interesting insights packed into this book. This is the kind of book that gives credence to this range of gut feeling. Specifically the kind of gut feeling that relates to how work is conducted and how issues and challenges are generally tackled. And specially how most of the times, people and organizations tend to get stuck in a rutt. When there is so much focus on execution that you start missing the forest for the trees (big picture).
The contents within the book help shed light on unique and interesting insights such as:
There are tons of examples and use cases along the way. From leveraging examples throughout history and even using the findings from some of the work Ori has conducted himself. Most notably, the work that he has done with the US Army.
Now this blogpost has been sitting in my drafts folder for far too long and I am having difficulty finding an adequate amount of time for writing a descriptive blogpost. However, if you are a leader, a problem solver and would like to read up on some new/interesting and super simple ways of looking at problems, defining them and would like to leverage simple constructs for helping solve these problems. Then this is a great read.
Two of the many random thoughts that emerged in my mind while I was going through this book.
Coming back to the original book review. 'Chaos imperative' is a great read. I definitely want to read it again!
The conceptual designs for the O’Neill Colonies and the subject of Nanotechnology have always managed to capture my attention.
At least when it comes to the O'Neill colonies, often I find myself going back and observing the designs as envisioned by Gerard O'Neill. Also, I keep thinking and wondering about the enormous potential nanotechnology, in a developed form can offer for our species.
To cut to through the chase, large scale sustainable colonization of space is impossible, unless and until our species gets a much a better control over how to structure and positions atoms.
A thought related to this conceptual merger between space colonies and nanotechnology, led me to this very question.
So I started searching the web, and sure enough, my search soon led me to this very book called ‘The Visioneers’ written by a gentleman by the name of W. Patrick McCray.
I was very surprised to observe, that the entire book is a historical record when it comes to the developments related to the two concepts that I was thinking about, namely space colonies and nanotechnology!
As you might have noticed from the front cover (image above), this book is about “How a group of elite scientists pursued space colonies, nanotechnologies and a limitless future”.
Now, since the 60’s, a number scientists and visionaries have been trying to build a case for the colonization space. But, this vision has been met with a fair bit of resistance. Largely, due to the fact that the technology just wasn’t ready. And even if it was possible, then there has always been scare mongering that has been attached with these concepts (at the time) and how it had the (supposed) potential to destroy the world.
But in fits and starts, this movement has also gained encouragement from certain segments of society, academia and the Government. Namely, the United States Government and from what I can gather from this book. I’m sure that (since the 60’s) other governments have also invested in both nanotechnology and the colonization of space, but that is not in scope when it comes to the contents of this book.
The main characters:
Coming back to the book, most of the content revolves around the work performed by:
Gerard K. O’Neill: An American physicist, inventor and space activist. O’Neill tried to champion the cause of giant space settlements that could hypothetically be used for the colonization of space, using materials used from mining asteroids and the moon. O’Neill’s designs weren’t just an artistic rendition of what the conceptual models for the space colonies and manufacturing sites could look like. In fact, these designs were backed by a lot of research and what really distinguished them from science fiction was the meticulous amount of calculations that went into effect, in order to support the overall models.
Eric K. Drexler: The other amazing individual is Eric K. Drexler. An engineer from MIT (at the time), who in my opinion, is the rightful father of nanotechnology. Drexler, took the ideas as envisioned by Richard Feynmann for manipulating and controlling atoms and molecules and helped nurture and guide those ideas towards a path where they could eventually turn into a science.
Drexler’s book ‘Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology’ (published in 1986) is considered to be the first written record that hypothesizing the designs and details of machines that can be operated on a nanoscale. To quote from Wikipedia, Drexler envisioned a world where: “Molecular robots can be used for any purpose, from medicinal robots that can be guided for helping clear capillaries to environment scrubbers that can clear pollutant from air.” To even molecular robots that come together, in order to build lighter and stronger materials. Drexler worked closely with O’Neill, to see how the overall vision for the colonization of space could be supported with the aid of nanotechnology.
Obviously, there are other characters mentioned in this book as well. But like I said, most of the content focuses on the work performed by these gentlemen.
Meat and Potatoes
The overall narrative is really all about the dreams, the vision (backed by engineering designs) that these individuals continued to pursue, sometimes in the face of resistance and setbacks.
Also, after reading this book, I believe that the present day planning and activity when it relates to space exploration, colonization and mining can only trace it’s roots back to the work that individuals like O’Neill and Drexler helped envision and also champion.
Not only were these gentlemen the original dreamers, they were also the very first pioneers who dedicated a significant chunk (if not the entirety) of their lives when it comes to taking certain ideas and concepts from a fuzzy area and help bring them to a place where they could become very tangible in the foreseeable future. It is my wish that society will look back in time and always be indebted to individuals like O’Neill and Drexler and the fine work they did and sacrifices they made.
It’s also interesting to see how things are interconnected. Starting in the 60’s, from the origins of the L5 society and the whole world catalog and even individuals like Timothy Leary. To the emergence of social networks (in the absence of the internet) in the form of telephone networks e.t.c.
Or on the flip side, in a modern day context and to quote from the book “It’s impossible to ignore a certain homogeneity among this book’s characters. O’Neill, Drexler, Raymond Kurzweil, Peter Diamandis, Ted Nelson, Freeman Dyson, and even Richard Smalley: all men who graduated from elite schools with technical degrees.
This book is a great read for anyone who is interested in the following:
Also, there is a silver lining to the resistance that visionaries like O'Neill and Drexler had faced. As it can now serve as a lesson for new age visionaries. Namely:
It seems like a lot of things in life, kind of go back a full circle. Towards the beginning of this book, they were talking about this movement of sorts in the 60's where there was a lot of emphasis on 'Limits'. And supposedly, how limits had to be imposed on the continued advancement and development of society, if we were to continue living on this planet in a sustainable way. This was precisely the time when creative and intelligent engineers like like O'Neill and Drexler had decided to tackle these challenge head on. Their ideas and designs could help potentially help the human race leap frog these limits and such a movement could also (potentially and theoretically) help usher in a new age of abundance.
Now, some 50 ++ years later, the human race finds itself confronting a somewhat similar scenario. Where, among a host of other problems, we also have the looming threat of climate change. Luckily, for us, the debate this time around is not so much around the imposition of limits. There isn't much of a debate, the way I see it. But the one good movement I have noticed is the very nascent framework that is beginning to develop around space exploration, manufacturing and mining.
Hence, the vision as it was conceived by Gerard O'Neill and Eric K. Drexler, is still alive. It was dormant for a while and now it is slowly beginning to materialize. These individuals performed all this intelligent work decades ago, sometimes in the face of resistance, so that one day humanity could benefit from it. That era is getting closer with the passage of each day.
Overall, great read. Backed by a lot of research. Great work by Patrick McCray!
The more I read about Ben Franklin, the more I like him:
I took care not only to be in reality industrious and frugal, but to avoid all appearances to the contrary.
Going through the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.
The autobiography is really interesting and I’m already 1/3 into it.
To quote from wikipedia: “A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat.”
Clearly, Benjamin Franklin was an interesting fellow. A very accomplished fellow and I’d say, a great role model.
There are many different kinds of Leaders. They possess a combination of different strengths that make them the type of leader that they really are.
However, this idea just came to me the other day.
I think, relying on a single leader to lead throughout the entirety of the operation. That might not be an ideal approach during all the different phases of a venture’s existence.
I say this because I have personally witnessed how:
This type of a leader will keep throwing something at the wall to see if it sticks. But they will introspectively slow down all interactions that happen during that process to really figure out what is going on in that construct. But that, they will do this really quickly.
Their intent is to always figure out how something works and more importantly, why something that they are vested in, does not work. Their process is messy. But give it time, a system, adequate amount of chances, mentorship and this leader will bloom.
This type of a leader is a natural rebel. They are dissatisfied with the status quo.
These type of leaders have a much higher propensity for helping change the world. They get others to buy into their vision. They engineer ideas, continually dream of disruption and they throw one heck of a party.
They provide themselves the authority to form conclusions, make decisions and act. However they go through that process a number of times, they test and retest their hypothesis to ensure that their decisions would contribute towards overall operational stability. They know how to balance process vs innovation. They are always mindful of the fact that you cannot fall into the process trap and thus end up killing innovation as an unthought-of consequence. The stabilizer is good at forming relationships, finding and capitalizing upon newer opportunities, is astute and great at guiding the venture towards calmer seas.
Maximizers can experience an enormous amount of trouble dealing with non-linear, chaotic, messy disruptions. When they find themselves in such a situation, maybe they should seek help from an activator, who is very good at making sense out of chaos.
That being said, this is the rarest amongst the already rare breed of good entrepreneurs. Maximizers are the ideal candidates for leading ventures that eventually help launch economies of scale. Great maximizers are relentless when it comes to the diversification of their revenue streams. Generally they create institutions that last a very long time.
It’d be pretty rare if a single leader possessed all three of these characteristics. But it happens. I think it might be more common for any leader to possess 2 out of the 3 characteristics. And when they do, they either find someone who would possess and compliment the area that they are lacking in. Or that they would form an entire team to be able to fill that gap.
In an era of increasingly complexity, leaders would have to rely upon others, in order to run the operations during the different phases of venture’s existence. Don’t try and do something that you are not good at, specifically during a time when a lot is at stake. Ideally, every venture would cultivate these three types of leaders from the get go. And from time to time, they’d have to pull the activator from the party to ask them what should be done.
Stumbled upon this clip on Youtube and this has got to be one of my favorite interviews of Steve Jobs.
1995: Almost a decade has passed since Jobs was ousted from Apple. During this time, Jobs ended up launching two companies. Namely, Next and Pixar.
I like this interview for the obvious reasons. As usual, Jobs is being quite honest and candid about everything.
The interview starts with Jobs being reminiscent about his childhood. How various individuals helped pique his interest, when it comes to leveraging his skill set and getting him interests in Electronics. To his teachers in junior high, those who encouraged him through the learning process by literally bribing him with money and candies. And how that worked out quite well. Really well in-fact. Take that Daniel Pink! (Drive). To a very candid confession that Jobs would have probably ended up in jail, if it wasn’t for some of the individuals and particularly some of the teachers during his formative years. Jobs knows the kind of tendencies he possessed and how they had the capacity to direct his cognition and his destiny. I, for one, understand what he is saying.
Jobs also ends up talking about his experiences and how it took him into uncharted territories like the education sector (with Next). And some of the things he had to do in order to market Next to the education sector. Like talking to politicians and his experience dealing with the differing bodies of Governance. Seems like not much has changed throughout the decades. Jobs is sympathetic towards how the teachers are treated (pay) and generally how the system is broken as it fails to attract the best candidates for some of these jobs. Also, mention of the unions and how they protect the broken system.
Jobs also ends up talking about things that almost all the Leaders in the Tech industry should stop and pay attention to. His words are relevant to this day. Specially for Businesses and specifically businesses in the Tech industry that find themselves in a somewhat precarious situation.
Jobs talks about a number of things. Some of the themes that I noticed:
Great interview. Thank you Steve Jobs. Rest in peace.