Tag Archives: Culture and Technology Program

Preparing CCT Students for Complexity


Last Thursday night, I taught my last class for the semester on The Network Economy. One of my favorite courses, it strives to explain, as well as transcend, some of the anomalies of neoclassical economics, by considering what other theoretical/disciplinary perspectives might have to say about the economy. I ask the students not necessarily to buy into the theories, but rather to try each of them on for size, to see if they fit the situation at hand, and add new insights to their understanding of the complex array of events taking place about them.

So, over the course of the semester, we take a tour, and work our way through the territory of behavioral economics, socioeconomics, Schumpter’s reasoned history, innovation theory, transaction cost economics, networking, complexity theory, as well as evolutionary economics.  We bring all of these theories together in our last class, when we read the final section of Eric Beinhocker’s The Creation of Wealth. As my students and I discussed, this book is not only an introduction to complexity economics, it is–-at one and the same time–-a good guide for living in the modern world.

. . . this book is not only an introduction to complexity economics, it is–at one and the same time–a good guide for living in the modern world.

Although, in his book, Beinhocker aims to characterize complexity, and it relevance for the world today, his message is decidedly simple and straightforward: Do not put all your eggs in one basket! Experiment instead, he says.

All the eggs in one basket by Sunni J

All the eggs in one basket by Sunni J

Accordingly, businesses should avoid committing themselves to one big strategic plan, based on a linear projection of how the future may unfold. To the contrary, business must embrace uncertainty, spreading their resources across a variety a strategies, which are flexible enough so that, if necessary, they can be easily scraped  or readily adapted to meet the demands of changing contingencies. Likewise, individuals must prepare themselves for an uncertain future by appropriating a wide variety of talents and skills and investing in a process of life long learning. In the same fashion, government policy makers must work at one and the same time on a variety of fronts, developing strategies that can be employed under a number of diverse circumstances. As importantly, in each of these situations, these experimental approaches must be structured so as to provide constant feedback and learning, which can then be incorporated into future strategies.

While teaching my Thursday might class, I was suddenly struck by the realization of how well the Communication Culture and Technology Program adheres to Beinhocker’s guiding principles.  For example, our course offerings are modular components, which together comprise one of seven potential clusters of interests.  Students draw upon these course offering to develop a curriculum that is uniquely suited to their needs.  Like complexity, the process is non-linear. Students rarely end up in the place, or mind set, where they started.  One might even say that their interests co-evolve together with the course material, insofar as they learn what they like as they go, and mix and match courses to build out a unique curriculum of their own. Equally important–at least from my point of view–they learn to draw on a wide range of disciplines with the greatest of ease.

I am always saddened when a class come to an end. In the Network Economy Class, we were just getting to know one another. Fortunately, there is another semester, and another year. I look forward to seeing you all at CCT, whether as a student, an alumni, or just out of curiosity.

Austria, All Aboard (Well Perhaps)

Today, election day, everyone is watching for updates on news about the election. I clearly understand. Never before has so much been at stake! Having voted early, my husband, Brock Evans, and I were poised to leave for a trip to Central Europe late yesterday afternoon. However, unintended consequences got in the way! So while others are watching the polls, my focus is targeted on the latest news about open seats on Austrian Airlines.

Vienna (complements of Mia Rossey)

Vienna (complements of Mia Rossey)

How, you might ask, did this happen? Well, nursing two martini’s back at home, my Husband described it best to our travel agent, Steve Dalghren:

Hi Steve. By now perhaps John has updated you re the Perils and Peregrinations of Brock and Linda. He was very helpful in your absence, especially after that fiasco when–all early and bright, and packed and ready–I handed in my old expired passport, not my current one (hey, what’s the big deal; they are all the same color aren’t they?)

Still packed and ready to go, we will set out for the airport again this afternoon. Ojala! if all goes well, we will land in Vienna early in the morning, just in time for me to make my meeting at the Austrian Academy Science. I have been honored to have been selected as a member of their Institute for Technology Assessment. Looking over the agenda, and viewing complex topics such as those we use to analyze at the US Office of technology Assessment, I am nostalgic for the old days but at the same time I am very eager to participate in the Austrian venture–keeping the idea alive so to speak.

Prague (courtesy of Juntos)

Prague (courtesy of Juntos)

From Austria we go to Prague where we meet an old friend and ardent environmentalist Maria Hudakova. Working out of Slovakia, she heads an organization called VLK, which is dedicated to preserving wolves and their forest environments. Any wolf lover should check out the site, which is in the process of being translated into English.

From Prague on to Budapest, the final leg of our trip. In Budapest, where I have never been before, we will visit Central European University. This is a great opportunity not only for me, but also the Communication Culture and Technology Program. CEU has a program such as ours, and I will speak there about The Future of the University, a topic that has been on my mind these last few weeks, given the tremendous stresses of the financial crisis.

So much to anticipate; so much excitement! No wonder why we took the wrong passport. But today we have made a check list, checked it off, and now await the airport taxi. If all goes well, I will have much to report in about a week!