Confronting Complexity

The book you are seeing on your screen may look like a normal book; it is not. It is a conversation in which you are a participant. The book does not offer pat answers to hard questions. In fact, it barely even gives definition to hard questions. Rather, this book presents that stage in which science is most challenging and, arguably, most interesting—the period of identifying just what the problems and issues are. That is why we solicit your help in writing this story—the story of extreme events in social systems.

The participants in this book-writing enterprise are independent thinkers who wish to understand the forces impinging on social systems and the systems’ often dramatic and extreme responses to those forces. Extreme events, the sudden and discontinuous response of social systems to these forces, are what we for shorthand term X-Events. X-events We imagine the reader to be a person who wants to intelligently manage his or her actions and behaviors in the midst of an X-event—in short, to manage an organization in chaos. And not only manage, but be a beneficiary of that event. Explicitly, we understand that there are no simple answers to social questions. But but there is at least a gestalt that can help an individual anticipate and manage X-events. The program outlined here is to build the gestalt by total immersion in the topic—by examining the issues from many perspectives.

Business Resilience

In the mid 1860s, mining engineer Fredrik Idestam established two ground wood pulp mills on the Nokianvirta River near Tampere, Finland giving rise to the name of the firm we all know today as Nokia. How that company trans- formed itself from a wood pulp company producing paper products to what was up until a few years ago the world’s largest cell phone manufacturing firm is a circuitous tale. This story is a fascinating account of how alert management can shift the focus of an entire organization in time with changes in the outside world so as to more effectively deploy available resources. At one time or another, Nokia proceeded from the production of paper to producing rubberized cables for telephone and electrical firms, as well as bicycle tires, and rubber boots. In the mid-twentieth century, Nokia expanded its repertoire to include consumer electronics by manufacturing electricity generation machinery, personal computers, and communication equipment. In 1992, the firm decided to abandon consumer electronics and focus solely on the rapidly growing telecommunication sector. This decision sowed the seeds of Nokia’s early dominance of the cell phone business when the company used its expertise to develop the GSM technology, which was later adopted as a de facto standard for mobile telephony in the 1990s. It’s estimated that by 2008 worldwide GSM connections were growing at a rate of over one million per day.