Flourishing on emergent platforms

Innovations flourish on emergent platforms. Steven Johnson favors coral reefs (and rain forests) as better metaphors for emergent platforms than the monoculture commons occupied by grazing cattle. This fractal pattern of emergent platforms is my favorite of all those in Where Good Ideas Come From. In nature a few species function as platform creators while most exploit the opportunities and interdependencies on an emergent platform. The platform creators cannot go solo to get their job done. Coral needs algae to fuel their endeavors. Beavers need willow saplings on the adjacent river bank to build their dams. Once a platform emerges, a staggering volume of biodiversity joins the party. The quantity and quality of innovations, adaptations, co-optations and reciprocities are an inspiration to us. The flourishing of creativity we've produced on top of online platforms for our own writing, photos, videos, collaborating, selling, sharing, recycling and socializing -- follows this pattern of nature's bounty.

In nature, pioneer species show up first on a new platform. As they die and decay, fertile soil gets left behind. Several other species take hold which create conditions ripe for even more to get onboard. I suspect the online platforms we're currently using resemble pioneer species. They have sprung up like weeds. The kinds of creativity and innovation on display exhibit "shallow roots and small flowers". The platforms do not yet support deeper involvements and more elaborate replication schema. We're still in an early phase of development,  like when the first railroads were called "iron horses", the first automobiles were called "horseless carriages" and the first radio was called a "Marconi wireless" .

Emergent platforms foster continual balancing between competitive and cooperative impulses. The competition keeps each organism from over-replicating and overrunning the platform space. The cooperation creates ways to recycle, conserve and thrive together with only scarce resources. The complex web of interdependencies results in lots of cross-fertilzation between solutions and innovative uses for cast off by-products. Together, the vitality thriving on or in the platform becomes very resilient and sustainable.

Emergent platforms can be brought to the brink of collapse by reductionistic interference. The removal of wolves of the western U.S. National Parks provides a prime example. Without that apex predator to function as the keystone to the entire ecosystem, mesopredators like the elk and mule deer run rampant. When wolves were reintroduced, the die off of aspen, cottonwoods and willows was reversed. Beaver ponds reappeared with the full panorama of species that thrive on those platforms . Antelope returned to the park in sustainable numbers. Eroding river banks stabilized. Balance was restored throughout the ecosystem by the return of the apex predators.

Once we create platforms for solving social problems, I expect those second generation platforms will function as apex predators. The current global problems with excesses of greed, consumerism, waste, violence, exploitation and abuse will all get balanced. Huge institutions that function like sociopaths or vandals will experience invincible competition from vast webs of cooperation. A staggering quantity and quality of innovations will replace the industrial era systems for delivering products and services unsustainably. These next generation platforms will provide a resilient and sustainable alternative to the current trajectory of human civilization.

Here are my other explorations of the seven fractal patterns of innovation in Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson:
  1. Migrating to the adjacent possible (adjacent possible)
  2. How do good ideas behave (liquid networks pattern)
  3. Where hunches go to die (slow hunches)
  4. Setting up accidental discoveries (serendipity)
  5. Benefiting from errors (errors)
  6. Getting psyched for exaptation (exaptation)
  7. Flourishing on emergent platforms (emergent platforms) 

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