Future Perfect

What is a “peer progressive”? Steven Johnson, in Future Perfect, describes a person who is neither right-wing nor left-wing, ignoring the labels of 20th century politics, and one who embraces the power of networks for the betterment of society.

To be a peer progressive, then, is to believe that the key to continued progress lies in building peer networks in as many regions of modern life as possible: in education, health care, city neighborhoods, private corporations, and government agencies. When a need arises in society that goes unmet, our first impulse should be to build a peer network to solve that problem. Some of these networks will rely heavily on technology, as Kickstarter does; while others will be built using older tools of community and communication, including that timeless platform of humans gathering in the same room and talking to one another.

This book talks a lot about governance models and how people can organize to make better organizations: political, business, and non-profit. For example, Johnson discusses the work of Scott E. Page who states that “Diversity trumps ability“, an interesting concept for decision-making.

Take two groups of individuals and assign to each one some kind of problem to solve. One group has a higher average IQ than the other, and is more homogenous in its composition. One group, say, is all doctors with IQs above 130; the second group doesn’t perform as well on IQ tests, but includes a wide range of professions. What Page found, paradoxically, was that the diverse group was ultimately smarter than the smart group. The individuals in the high-IQ group might have scored better individually on intelligence tests, but when it came to solving problems as a group, diversity matters more than individual brainpower.

Steven Johnson argues that it is time to change our guiding economic framework: corporate capitalism.

Capitalism helped us see the value of decentralized networks through the price signalling of markets. The next phase is for capitalism to apply those lessons to the social architecture of corporations themselves.

Some people might call this social business.

The modern regime of big corporations and big governments has existed for the past few centuries in an artificial state that neglected alternative channels through which information could flow and decisions could be made.

Johnson shows in the book that we need to shift our thinking from centralized power to the power of distributed networks, which are more robust, especially in facing complex problems.

Image: Paul Baran (1964) RAND

Future Perfect: The case for progress in a networked age, is a recommended read.

2 Responses to “Future Perfect”

  1. Viv McWaters

    This network model has become integral to my work since I was first introduced to it by Roland Harwood (then of NESTA in the UK). he used it to talk about the importance of conversations, leading to relationships, then transactions. So much of my work as a facilitator is about people wanting transactions without the effort of conversations and relationships (and then they wonder why the transactions fall over). I’ve also applied it when mentoring others who want to facilitate – to move from one-to-many approaches to distributed approaches, which are far more robust and do what you explained in your post – they enable to collective wisdom of a group to be used instead of relying on a designated ‘expert’ or the few loudest voices in the room.

  2. Andrew

    I very much enjoyed reading Johnson’s musings on the promise of peer networks and emergent forms of connection. I especially liked the perspective that this growing peer philosophy is neither Big Government nor Big Corporation, nor does it fit neatly into either of our dominate political platforms. It is indeed something altogether different. This aspect of the book was inspiring and refreshing.


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