Communication and diversity secure system-wide performance. Competition doesn’t

April 20, 2010

In our competitive view of the world, we often think that the most capable are those who are the most competitive, and accordingly that competition creates and secures efficiency.

It may be that high performance is incorrectly attributed to competition and is more a result of diversity, self-organizing communication and non-competitive processes of collaboration.

Competitive processes lead to the handicapping of the higher-level system that these processes are part of. This is because competitive selection leads to exclusion: something is left outside. Leaving something out always means a reduction of diversity. The resulting less diverse system is efficient in the short term, but always at the expense of flexibility. Agility and complex problem solving require diversity. Everything goes fine if nothing changes and if there are only easy problems to take care of!

Self-organizing, non-competitive processes are about interdependent individuals and groups solving problems in a shared context. Interaction creates capability beyond what could ever be predicted just by looking at the performance of the individuals involved. The higher performance and robustness are emergent properties of interaction. They are not attributable to the parts of the system.

Social networks provide problem-solving capability that results directly from the amount of communication and level of diversity of communication.

Most organizations would soon fail if all their employees thought alike or had little or no contact. There are two new challenges. The first is to understand the need for networking with views and values that are different. The second challenge is even bigger because of the mainstream reductionist thinking: our assumption has been that by understanding the parts in detail, we understand the whole. This is simply not possible! What happens in interaction between the parts is more important than the parts. The whole is the emergent pattern of that interaction, not the sum of the parts.

Diversity here means the degree of unique information in the network. If all contribute the same information, then diversity is low. If each agent contributes relevant, unique information that is not shared by others, then the diversity measure is high.

Networks with a wide spectrum of information/experiences are resilient to noise. This facilitating effect of diversity is critical when dealing with difficult problems where false information can lead to expensive consequences. Higher system performance and robustness occur through the simple combination of the different experiences of individuals, even though each individual takes part in communicative interaction from their own limited perspective.

The importance of self-organization and diversity is unfortunately still greatly underestimated today, particularly in hierarchical, centralized, monoculture systems – like firms.

One of the great societal promises of social media is that interaction in wide-area networks, with enough diversity, can solve problems beyond the awareness of the individuals involved.

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Background: On serendipity

Thank you Stuart Kauffman, Sari Baldauf and Norman Johnson

7 Responses to “Communication and diversity secure system-wide performance. Competition doesn’t”


  1. So right. It is interesting to see Sven companies start to build processes on this social Soil, develop tools to understand and socialize with ones who love company’s services. Amazing things will appear when ‘borders’ become more transparent to consumers, lot of value will be created by new organizing. Cool sights.


  2. [...] Collaboration is new Competitiveness: "Standing on the shoulder of giants". Still competing but for diversity, contribution, co-creation & reach of value/ information.Close [...]


  3. [...] “I rewrote my post about communication and competition” Social networks provide problem-solving capability that results directly from the amount of [...]


  4. The paradigm of organizations is competition. Some years ago I read an article (don´t remember the writer) suggesting that a must better paradigm could be dance. In one night you can dance with different partners – and these would dance with some other partners.

    In theory managers would say “yes” to Esko´s excellent and well argumented ideas. In reality we are so stuck to our old thinking patterns and beliefs. So there is some work to be done.

  5. Natascha Says:

    Hi Esko,
    Thank you for an interesting article. Your thoughts about interdependence are likely to those presented in a book written by S. Covey in which he mentioned the maturity continuum. In the maturity continuum people move from dependence to independence and further to interdependence. He described interdependence as the paradigm of we where talents and abilities can be combined for creating success. Why? Because interdependence of character empowers people to act instead of to be acted upon!


  6. [...] Esko Kilpi korostaa, että liika kilpailu johtaa poissulkemiseen, joka vähentää diversiteettiä. Tämä vähentää pitkällä tähtäimellä mm. serendipiteettiä, organisaation muutoskykyä ja erityisesti oppimismahdollisuuksia. [...]


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