By Megan E. Hogan

“Trillions” Event Success and What We Learned About Beautiful Complexity


On June 3, 2013, the Crossland Group hosted a dynamic event at its Boston office to present its partner Mickey McManus, MAYA Design CEO and co-author of the book Trillions: Thriving in the Emerging Information Ecology. About fifty clients, partners, and invited guests from the local community gathered to hear Mickey’s no-holds-barred account of both the promises and risks of life in the age of Trillions.

A technological sea change

Mickey took the group on a journey through several chapters in the book, offering compelling, and sometimes mind-boggling insights to ponder and act upon. He suggested that “we are facing a future of unbounded complexity, and it is unclear whether that complexity will be harnessed to build a better world, or cause us to fall into an abyss of mind-numbing junk.”

The technical, business, and human challenges and opportunities that this technological sea change will bring are without precedent. According to Mickey and his co-authors, Peter Lucas and Joe Ballay, entire industries will be born and others will die as our society navigates this journey.

One of the key tenets of Trillions is that of “taming complexity.” Complexity can be frustrating and unproductive—just think of the last time you filed your taxes. Our natural reaction might be to want to get rid of complexity altogether; but complexity also provides the power and capability for amazing advances in the human condition. Rather than stunting advancement in the name of over-simplification, perhaps we can strive to achieve a beautiful complexity in its stead. And what better example can we think of for this beautiful complexity, than what nature has already provided us?

What we can learn from nature’s complexity

Nature has had a lot more practice at taming complexity than human beings. Human beings have been banding together in societies for about ten thousand years, and written language has been around for maybe half that time. Even the most commonly accepted definition for the word “information” has only been around for about sixty years. Suffice it to say, we are relatively new players in this game.

Nature, on the other hand, has, for billions of years, been incubating and replicating life in incredibly diverse yet deceptively simple ways: from the complex neural and cellular networks handling trillions of connections in our own bodies, to the stunning biodiversity of evolved life, to fungal networks that allow acres of forest to live as a single organism for nearly eighty thousand years (if you’re interested, take a moment to learn more about the single oldest living organism in the world).

How does nature do it? How can we emulate nature’s success as we contemplate the need to tame the complexity inherent in a trillion node network? Nature uses a uniform building block, DNA, to allow all living organisms to share information and expand in their own ways. This profound process has created a diverse biology of over ten million living species on earth today, all using a universal building block to create vast variations in the expression of life.

Taming beautiful complexity with human-centered design

But, back to our human condition—how can we harness nature’s success to solve the serious business and social problems facing the world today? The drive to achieve beautiful complexity has forged an emerging discipline called human-centered design, which is reshaping the way products, businesses, and whole information systems are created. Human-centered design is an approach to design that requires interdisciplinary collaboration, an iterative process with frequent prototyping, and engagement with real people.

We at the Crossland Group have embraced human-centered design as a core tenet of our own approach to the clients we serve and the challenges we undertake. By combining design, technology, and a relentless drive to understand the audience and their goals, we feel confident that even the most challenging set of problems can be tamed into a beautiful complexity.

Finally, what does this bold new age of trillions of interconnected devices mean for the Crossland Group? While we are already focused on the practice of user-experience and applying the methods of human-centered design, we need to start thinking about trillions of computing devices talking to each other, and what the implications are for the future of our own and our clients’ businesses. How will we manage this unprecedented shift from a using computation to actually living in it?

We are eager to help shape this next evolution in the human condition. We hope you will join us in this journey—exciting and provocative times are ahead.

About the author

Megan E. Hogan uses her communications, editorial, and research skills to bring clarity, substance, and consistency to the diverse collateral of mission-driven organizations.

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