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One major strength with humanity is that every time the current system is being threatened it is learning something. Some of us argue that we should be using our relatively recent develop pre-frontal cortex in order to foresee things, but at the same time we know that real collective learning emanate from real experiences which stirs op real emotions.

So what learning are we talking about in this sad situation?

First military and security groups around the world, including India, saw a new and horrifyingly effective tactic when a rather small number of individuals with ordinary weapons and explosives could terrorize one of the world's major cities for hours after hours and kill hundreds of people. I shrug when I think about which consequences this lesson will have when it comes to new kinds of security measures being implemented in more places in our society.

For all the different small groups of terrorists, guerillas and organized criminals around the planet this was a lesson in the efficiency in the swarming tactics we have seen small examples of here and there. In my home town Göteborg organized criminals seems for some time been experimenting with placing fake bombs or committing crimes elsewhere in the city in order to divert the attention of the authorities. This successful attack in Mumbai will become a major lesson of the learning processes John Robb calls Open Source Terrorism in his blog Global Guerillas.

For the Internet crowd and the traditional media channels the learning this time was about the effectiveness of tweeting, or as Paul Saffo puts it: News no longer breaks - it Tweets. Every time the social media crowd is engaged in something, new structures are emerging when the social software tools are being used in a slightly different but more effective fashion. I first noticed the real large scale effect of this in the aftermath of the dreadful Christmas tsunami in 2004 when the citizen journalists in place with cameraphones connected to the blogosphere and actually made all the necessary analysis hours before any journalist arrived and days or week before some governments figured out how to do. At that time the tools were blogs and wikis and mobile cameras. In every crisis after that I have been noticing how the connected crowd quickly restarts the process, but every time on a bit higher and more sophisticated level. This time the tool of choice was Twitter and since Twitter is a much faster paced technology, the information flow was even faster than before which meant that the reports were almost instant. For the curious you can go to Twitter #Mumbai to follow the Twitter updates in real time.

What does this mean for the future? If we compare these three groups when it comes to the speed and potential of learning to act in this new emerging environment the picture becomes pretty clear. It is not the governments or the security professionals that will adapt best or more quickly, even if they control a lot of resources. Most likely they will intensify their already ongoing work of trying to identify and stop potential dangerous people. They will undoubtably make the life difficult for many citizens around the globe, but if they don't redefine themselves and their mission to be much more bottom-up and preventive, they will not learn how to really cope with new emerging security situation.

The fastest learning is definitively taking place in the bottom-up part of the game where a race of mastering these new emerging technologies in a new emerging environment have been going on for some time. The question is not if the nation state will be able to handle terrorism but if the networked global citizen will develop a working distributed "defence system" in order to shield the society faster than what terrorists and other radical forces will develop their effective swarm tactics.

Update: John Robb have made a couple of interesting follow up posts about the Mumbai tactics:

Global Guerrillas: JOURNAL: More on Tactical Innovation


There were also more articles about the use of social media as news reporting and communicating platform e g

Mumbai attack coverage demonstrates (good and bad) maturation point of social media | Feeds |

Update 2: And guess what communication technology the terrorists were using?? Blackberrys of course!

Update 3: In NY Times February 14, 2009 John Arquilla commented on these kinds of attacks and called them Swarm tactics and characterized them as

The basic concept is that hitting several targets at once, even with just a few fighters at each site, can cause fits for elite counterterrorist forces that are often manpower-heavy, far away and organized to deal with only one crisis at a time.

and ends the article with a prediction:

Yes, the swarm will be heading our way, too. We need to get smaller, closer and quicker. The sooner the better.

200810152232.jpgIn July this year HBS published a working paper by the name: Communication (and Coordination?) in a Modern, Complex Organization where the authors analyzed e-mails from 30.000 employees in a large company over a 3-month period. It is really interesting that this has been done, even if I wonder why it wasn't done before (or am I wrong?).Their conclusions are really interesting, especially in present times of the social networks, where horizontal communication is growing rapidly.

Communication patterns were extremely hierarchical: Executives, middle managers, and rank-and-file employees communicated extensively within their own levels, but there were far fewer cross-pay-grade interactions in the firm.

Junior executives, women, and members of the salesforce were the key actors in bridging the silos.

[From the executive summary: The Silo Lives! Analyzing Coordination and Communication in Multiunit Companies — HBS Working Knowledge]

To those people who believe in the strong transformative power of technology this may sound surprising or even depressing. Because it basically means that in spite if all this wonderful technology that creates transparency and breaks down borders people are still communicating within silos.

To me this just underlines one of the important lessons from the research area of diffusion of innovations: it is our social connections that are the vehicles for the spread of innovations, and first in the next step technology changes social patterns. Social patterns doesn't change over night, because they are based on human behavior which follows much longer cycles.

Another way to put it is that the people as both employees and as company culture members embodies values and mental structures that in practice regulates e g who is invited to which project or who to contact to get a problem solved. In 1990 Paul A. David published an article called The Dynamo and the Computer: An Historical Perspective on the Modern Productivity Paradox where he tried to explain why the productivity gain of computers didn't showed up in the balance sheet. His point is that productivity doesn't rise until the whole system is redesigned in a new way, a process that may take decades because of the built in inertia in a working systems consisting of both people, machines and information structures in complex interrelation with each other.

What I think lacks in this research is how these social communication patterns changes with age, education and the individuals earlier experience of e g social software. I don't doubt that physical, geographical or organizational barriers creates this effect, but I am curious what is happening what is happing to people which are heavy users of communication and have a wide reach before they enter a large organization. Are they changing their behavior? And how much??

It would also be very interesting to compare companies of different age and maturity to understand how and how fast these silo patterns are emerging.

My comment as a futurist about this is (as usual): think s-curves! A lot of communication patterns on this planet haven't changed a bit yet, but they are about to. We are just inflating our expectations about this horizontal and social communications.