Several weeks ago, we aired the second half of our interview with Professor Yaneer Bar-Yam as a part of our podcast series on the complexity of the environment. Bar-Yam shared with us how quickly unintended consequences can ripple throughout our global systems. He provided us with examples, including some fascinating research he conducted with his school, The New England Complex Systems Institute, on the causes of increasing global food prices.
Recently, we shared our podcast interview with Yaneer Bar-Yam who is a complexity scientist, researcher, author, professor, and founder of the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI). Yaneer received his SB and PhD in Physics from MIT and has an extensive background in using principles and insights from complex systems science to better the world. He is the author of two fantastic books: a textbook called Dynamics of Complex Systems and Making Things Work, which applies complex systems science to solving problems in healthcare, education, systems engineering, international development, and ethnic conflict. He is also the author of over 200 research papers in professional journals and has 3 patents.
Often, when we think about global-scale problems, feelings of defeat can creep in on us. The scale and scope of the problems we face as a human race can feel very intimidating and it is easy to want to break each issue down into parts so that they more digestible and less overwhelming to tackle. The problem is that this reductionist approach does more harm than good because each problem is so intertwined with the next. We soon start to encounter unintended consequences from our actions because we are operating within a limited viewpoint and understanding of what is happening and therefore we miss out on what is necessary. James described a tactic he uses to think bigger, called blindspotting. Blindspotting is the driving force behind all of his work and it is essentially an approach he uses to find what has been overlooked because of reductionist thinking. James said, "ultimately, blindspotting can address the neglected gap between the scale of our our responses and the scale of the interconnected challenges".