Cesar Hidalgo on Interconnectedness & Why Information Grows


We recently had the privilege to talk with physicist, complexity scientist, and MIT professor, Cesar Hidalgo, on our podcast. Hidalgo is also the author of Why Information Grows, The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies, a wonderfully insightful book which explores “what information is, where it comes from, and why it grows.”

Below is an excerpt from Why Information Grows:

"Our ability to crystallize imagination sets us apart from other species, as it allows us to create in the fluidity of our minds and then embody our creations in the rigidity of our planet.

But crystallizing imagination is not easy. Embodying information in matter requires us to push our computational capacities to the limit, often beyond what a single individual could ever achieve. To beget complex forms of information, such as those that populate our modern society, we need to evolve complex forms of computation that involve networks of humans. Our society and economy, therefore, act as a distributed computer that accumulates the knowledge and knowhow needed to produce the information that we crave.”


This excerpt richly communicates Boisot and McKelvey’s Law of Requisite Complexity, “it takes complexity to beat complexity.” Hidalgo calls for us to match the complexity of “embodying information” with complex (diverse) and knowledgeable networks. We need to come together and humble ourselves, because our individual knowledge and knowhow is very limited, but we can maximize complexity and chaos through our networks. During our interview with Hidalgo, he explained that “to learn more complex activities you need more social reinforcement.” We make information grow, when we collectively leverage our creativity, imagination, and diversity. This begins with collective learning. Hidalgo explains that having networks alone is not enough, we need meaningful interaction and collaboration in order for collective learning to take place.

But, how do we begin to make meaningful interactions and collaborations? Well, we have to promote the right conditions for our networks to learn and adapt, which are incidentally the same conditions that enable life itself. Leading with emergence, fully engaged, while learning from experience and adapting along the way can help us foster open systems that enable growth. Allowing for emergence also helps foster healthy and more dynamic relationships so that large amounts of knowledge can easily flow through and between networks. Safe to fail environments are also a great example of how to promote collective learning within a team environment.

A living system is a learning system.
— Meg Wheatley

On a more personal level, deep social bonds, trust and community are critical. After talking with Hidalgo, we were reminded that the quality of our relationships really matter. He made a point to mention the people with whom he credits his life and his success. He also talked about the importance of building "strong links" or bonds with those closest to him, and he opened up about his concern for growing social isolation and loneliness in Western culture.

For us, our conversation revealed a deeper theme from Why Information Grows, which is that information has little meaning without relationship. When you strengthen connections, you create more possibilities, in every sense of the word. 

Information is the difference that makes a difference.
— Meg Wheatley

You can listen to the HumanCurrent podcast here and don't forget to subscribe in iTunesListen to our recent podcast interview with physicist, complexity scientist, and MIT professor, Cesar Hidalgo. Let's work happy!

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