ALL FLUX

If the system settles into harmony and equilibrium…

…it will eventually stagnate and die.

Innovation is disruption; constant innovation is perpetual disruption. This seems to be the goal of a well-made network: to sustain a perpetual disequilibrium. A few economists studying the new economy (among them Paul Romer and Brian Arthur) have come to similar conclusions. Their work suggests that robust growth sustains itself by poising on the edge of constant chaos. “If I have had a constant purpose it is to show that transformation, change, and messiness are natural in the economy,” writes Arthur.

The difference between chaos and the edge of chaos is subtle. Apple Computer, in its attempt to seek persistent disequilibrium and stay innovative, may have tottered too far off-balance and let itself unravel toward extinction. Or, if its luck holds, it may discover a new mountain to ascend after a near-death experience.

The dark side of flux is that the new economy builds on the constant extinction of individual companies as they’re outpaced or morphed into yet newer companies in new fields. Industries and occupations also experience this churn. Even a sequence of rapid job changes for workers–let alone lifetime employment–is on its way out. Instead, careers–if that is the word for them–will increasingly resemble networks of multiple and simultaneous commitments with a constant churn of new skills and outmoded roles. About 20% of the American workforce already have an arrangement other than the traditional employee relationship with one employer. And 86% of them claim to be happy about it.

 

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This is a blog version of a book of mine first published in 1998. I am re-issuing it (two posts per week) unaltered on its 10th anniversary. Comments welcomed. More details here.
-- KK