“There is a concept which corrupts and upsets all others. I refer not to Evil, whose limited realm is that of ethics, I refer to the infinite.” – Jorge Luis Borges, in Avatars of the Tortoise
Let’s start with a basic supposition: open systems succeed, while closed systems fail.
What do I mean by a system? A system is anything comprised of complexity: it can be one single individual or a group, forming a collective or organization. An open system is where there is a degree of openness that allows for the cross-pollination and cross-fertilization of minds and ideas, which then allows for ideas to then take shape. It is holistic in nature.
A closed system is rigid and mechanistic, and continues doing the same thing and operating in the same way, even if the approach has proven to not work.
Open systems are based on an infinite and expanding universe, one that continually evolves and grows. A closed system is based on finiteness, and does its best to resist growth and maintain the status quo, because it does not see how to get past itself.
Closed systems may ultimately fail, but the vast majority of people and organizations in our society and world function in that way. This is why we have such a crisis-laden world, because we operate from a closed-system mentality.
And because this is the status quo and the way the world operates, it is the way business gets done. To change to a more open system would mean, as with all attempts at change, getting past the fear of the unknown – even though a closed system is dysfunctional and doesn’t serve society well, it is what we know well, while an open system represents an unknown, a new model and way of doing things.
Furthermore, as Jorge Luis Borges says in the quote above, an open system (which is a representation of infinity) is a concept that corrupts and upsets all others.
Yet, the truth is that our universe, and every living thing and collection of things in it, is an open system. We continue to evolve in ways that are not always predictable, so the unknown is a steady part of life.
The beauty of our world in the present day is that we are becoming more and more aware of this fact, and our culture, society and world are moving in that direction. And as we do so, it’s best if we all get on the bus.
Creating a more open world is truly the path towards creating a better tomorrow. A more open world is predicated on people being more open of mind, of thinking beyond themselves and including in their perspective the perspective of others, and how their behaviors and actions may affect others.
A closed society operates by way of a zero-sum game, in which resources are seen as finite and limited, and in order for someone to win resources, someone else has to lose them. In this scenario, if I get what I need, then you lose what you need. There are only a few winners in a zero-sum game, and many, many losers.
An open society operates by way of a positive-sum game, in which win-win situations are the norm. If I get what I need, you also get what you need, and so everyone wins.
In the interview I did with Charles Eisenstein, author of the book “Sacred Economics,” for the video series “Interviews with the Leading Edge,” he talked about his idea of a more sacred economic system, which he considered to be predicated on a gift economy. A gift economy is based on an open system model, in which people offer their goods and services in a way that informs and enlightens people and allows the receiver to decide in what manner to compensate the giver.
We are seeing this economic model more and more, thanks in part to the digital revolution. It began with open source software, which allowed programmers to create software and offer it to the public for free; at the same time, other programmers could improve on the software.
Now this open system economic model has spread throughout the culture in ways big and small. In 2007, when Radiohead released their new album “In Rainbows,” they released it on their website on a pay-what-you-want basis. Their approach was wildly successful. They are just one organization among many who have worked with this model.
With the expansion and opening up of intellectual property laws, many creators of intellectual property are choosing to use the creative commons and the un-copyright as a way to openly share their work, as opposed to the traditional copyrighting of their work, which only serves to create a closed wall around their work. By opening up access to their work, the creators of intellectual property allow for a sharing of materials in a way that has never occurred before in our modern age.
And by allowing for the sharing of materials, it creates a pattern of openness in which innovation and connectivity more readily occurs, as ideas and innovation are more likely to blossom in environments where connection is more valued than protection, and where truth is allowed to be unrestrained. In tightly controlled environments, where the natural movement of ideas and innovation are tightly controlled, creativity is strangled.
An open future is the key to a more enlightened future, and one that can allow us to live more peacefully with one another in a very sustainable way.
I will continue talking about open systems over the next few articles.