A Wardley map is a boundary object

A Wardley map is a boundary object. If you disagree, please jump to the comments section and share your insights.

As hyperconnectivity becomes ever more ingrained and remote first becomes commonplace, I anticipate the emergence of a variety of effective but simple boundary objects.

All models are wrong”, attributed to the statistician George Box, is often quoted. Recently, when I think about models I consider that “all models are noisy” too. If all we had was a crystal radio set with intermittent reception and a signal-to-noise ratio that the most earnest amateur radio enthusiast would regard as useless, it would still be useful in other contexts and most likely lead to important breakthroughs.

Network Perturbations

Perturbations are often regarded as noise. What is the difference? Noise is usually understood from the point of the experimenter. If we measure it from the outside, noise is the fluctuation of the value we measure. However, from the point of view of the network, noise is a series of perturbations changing its original status. Network perturbations can be called either signals or noise. This dissection is rather artificial and shows our anthropocentric view of the world around us. What is ‘good’ or ‘purposeful’ is called a signal, and what is disturbing, undesirable, residual, is called noise.

Peter Csermely. Weak Links: The Universal Key to the Stability of Networks and Complex Systems (2006)

So, how will we deal with digital noise pollution? Adapting to a hyperconnected world will be, to some extent, dependent upon fair and effective noise filtering and collective learning. Currently, those with greater digital social capital (clout) get to amplify ‘signals’. Yet, as Csermely quote suggests, the distinction between signals and noise is blurred. Distinctions could be subjective or politically motivated. Moreover, as economic equilibrium thinking gives way to complexity economics, its implications in terms of the distribution of power are uncertain.

Boundary Objects

So, perhaps time and effort should be concentrated in other areas. I suspect that might mean developing boundary objects and focusing efforts on forgiveness to foster trust. The evolution of religion. From orthodoxy to heterodoxy. The beginnings of a new moral and ethical framework (see the Wardley map below).

Wardley maps are created to be challenged. If you have any comments, please indulge yourself.

I was introduced to the potential of boundary objects for collaboration and cooperation after reading Max Boisot. I would recommend his talk The City as a Complex Adaptive System.

Emergence is a topic closely associated with the study of complex systems—some will not call a system complex unless it exhibits some form of emergence. But care is required in using this term. Emergence is most easy to understand in the context of the physical sciences. For example, consider the rules for the combination of atoms, as reflected in the periodic table. These rules constrain the possibilities for molecules, but the molecules actually observed are only a fraction of the possible combinations. There are rules at the next level—the rules of chemistry—that constrain the reactions and combinations observed. The rules of chemistry use additional information—temperature, pressure, concentrations, etc.—provided by the context in which the reactions occur. The rules of chemistry, however, cannot violate the rules imposed at the atomic level. In other words, the rules at lower levels constrain the rules at the level being investigated.

Emergence in this format comes from patterns or properties that appear under the constraints imposed by the rules of combination. In complex adaptive systems, emergent properties often occur when coevolving signals and boundaries generate new levels of organization. Newer signals and boundaries can then emerge from combinations of building blocks at this new level of organization. Indeed, some properties can emerge only when the system reaches a high enough level of organization. It makes no sense to talk of the wetness of an atom, but atoms combined into collections of molecules can exhibit the aggregate phenomenon we call wetness. Similarly, the production of sound becomes spoken language only at a high level of neural and muscular organization.

The view of emergence as a phenomenon generated by combining building blocks contrasts with the view of emergence as a holistic phenomenon. A holistic phenomenon, by definition, cannot be reduced to an interaction of parts. Clearly, the studies here allow for reduction. However, the reduction goes beyond the traditional reduction wherein “the whole is equal to the sum of its parts.” The conditional interactions between signals and boundaries cannot be simply added up. When the conditional interactions are included, reduction serves as a powerful tool for understanding emergent properties of signal/boundary systems.

John H. Holland, Signals and Boundaries: Building Blocks for Complex Adaptive Systems (2012, MIT Press)

To my simple mind, boundary object means it’s a tool that crosses disciplines.

In that case Simon uses his mapping for a generic way to think or discuss some thing.

He has a very powerful way to communicate without too many words getting in the way.

I’ve said this before, we’re all learning about Wardley Mapping, and Simon has followed his map and moved on. His dialogues on Twitter are wonderful.