Innovation Networks


If Microbes begat Mind and What Daedalus told Darwin show how principles manifest in the origin and evolution of life can be applied to Innovation Networks in current design-planning challenges. This page describes an early application that demonstrates power of evolutionary principles applied to innovation. earthDECKS is developing a range of other applications.

Zann Gill’s submission to the competition for Kawasaki, Japan, sponsored by the Japan Association for Planning Administration and the Mainichi Newspapers, with collaboration of ten ministries and three agencies of the Japanese government, tied with Matsushita for First Place and won the Award of the Mayor of Kawasaki. This submission illustrated the power of evolutionary principles to drive innovation networks.


Today’s next wave will harness web 2.0 and ubiquitous computing to transform social networks into Innovation Networks capable of driving innovation and bottom-up regional initiatives.


Zann Gill’s Plan for the city of Kawasaki, Japan, aiming to be a model “information city of the 21st century,”  anticipated need for this technology, proposing an ecosystem for innovation comprised of sixteen collaboratively autonomous components to enlist participation of different segments of the population, as shown in the diagram below.


These sixteen participatory mechanisms were linked in an Innovation Network for Kawasaki, Japan to encourage ongoing collaboration among corporate leaders, universities, governments, private and public organizations, and individuals. The northern half of the diagram shows civic components. Primary functions of the civic components in the northern half of the diagram, such as the World Collage Bulletin, are social interaction; public inquiry; referendum; assembly; communication and collaboration. The western half shows components that focus on innovation and private enterprise. Primary functions of the business and enterprise components in the western half of the diagram are to stimulate invention, implement promising innovation, matching resources with entrepreneurial needs to launch international ventures.

TAPPING CIVIC IMAGINATION: from children to the wisdom of elders

The eastern half of the diagram shows artistic and celebrational components. The primary functions of the arts components in the eastern half of the diagram are recreation and sensory stimulus; appreciating nature and the family of humanity; celebration and intercultural festivals; creative inspiration of the arts; and meditation and sacred space. The southern half of the diagram contains components associated with science, technology, and education.

The four core components in the center of the diagram manifest Kawasaki’s leadership in each of these four domains. Following the Kawasaki competition, the Japanese government organization then called MITI (the Ministry of Trade and Industry) proposed to the Japanese government to jointly design a “City of the Future” the so-called Multifunction Polis City of the Future in Australia.

In the core, influencing all other components, the Globe Theater and Shrine for World Harmony will be the two major landmarks of Kawasaki’s Agora of the Future.

The Shrine for World Harmony is an introspective, ritualistic, and meditative environment, inviting visitors to participate in Japanese tradition. The Globe Theater is proposed as a collaborative problem-solving environment, or collaboratory, providing a powerful tool for civic. business, and university policy-makers to think about global problems using decision support tool through and interactive display of its evolving database. People entering this luminous Eartharium can use its graphic display to visualize our interdependence as never before.

Educational institutions, from primary school through university, should play a core role, not only to develop analytical skills, but in to cultivate imagination, with the aid of components such as the

Children’s Dreamspace and Story Exchange to initiate cross-cultural exchange at an early age. Primary functions of science, technology, and education components in the southern half of the diagram are international intellectual exchange, hypothesis formation and testing, cognitive integration, and scenario construction.

Zann Gill moved to Australia for six years to work on this project. But, although innovation was a popular discussion topic, implementing Innovation Networks, whether for urban innovation or at the scale of individual institutions, threatens managers who thrive in the traditional top-down control paradigm. The Australian project, driven by big government and large real estate interests became a case study in how to block innovation.

The above example suggests a way to design innovation networks modeled on life’s origins and evolution. Principles are generalized below.

DESIGN or DESYN (to emphasize the focus on synthesis)
Highly innovative organizations face the constant challenge of processing a flood of good ideas, both generated by employees and submitted from outside. In the wake of Google’s Tenth Birthday Competition, this talk describes how innovation networks apply principles found in life’s origins and evolution to “innovation processing.” Debates about how novelty emerged in the origin of life and its evolution toward complexity demand revising assumptions that we’ve taken for granted. Steven Jay Gould said that “Darwinism” misrepresents Darwin. A more complete interpretation of Darwin’s theory of evolution could inspire new problem-solving methods with practical applications, e.g. from multi-agent systems able to learn and improve their performance to cross-disciplinary decision support systems designed to address environmental sustainability challenges.

First, start from uncertainty. Inventing from uncertainty implies that many alternatives are equally possible at the outset. ZIG and ZIR start from maximum uncertainty — the neutrality of randomly distributed pixels and many possible images of zebras. Where traditional methods start by defining the problem, putting boundaries around it, design harnesses uncertainty.

Second, break from the traditional goal-setting mindset and use decision-making criteria, flexible to revise as needed. Setting criteria for decision-making that can be revised based on new information allows recognition of unexpected patterns, triggers for innovation. By sacrificing possibility, specification converges toward a novel outcome, whereas fixed definitions and rigid boundaries limit the scope of the problem at the outset and can block innovation.

Third, harness the complementary dynamics of divergence and convergence to avoid consensus-seeking and other bottlenecks. Convergence starts from uncertainty, spiraling from blurriness toward increasing clarity and focus. Complementary dynamics of divergence and convergence generate raw material, avoiding bottlenecks, such as consensus-seeking. A bottleneck is a required, but unlikely, contingency that might break the chain of events required to originate novelty. To create hypotheses about the origin of life, scientists identify alternative pathways, scenarios, and events that would have been plausible, or highly probable, and choose more probable development paths, converging on an outcome that could not be predicted in advance. This is a strategy, not only to reconstruct the past, but also to design the future.

Fourth, tolerate ambiguity, deviation, and redundancy, tolerance spectra become “windows of opportunity.” Tolerance transforms deviation into the next possibility. And tolerance is latitude to accept, interpret, and adapt variation. Using tolerance spectra as opportunity windows limits what variations can be accepted into an evolving entity, allowing variations that fall within spectra to be accepted for interpretation, assimilation, and possible adaptation. Greater tolerance opens wider windows of possibility.

Fifth, interpret variation in the context so it can be integrated. Interpreting variation, deviation or error in the context of the evolving system aims to recognize usable variation, deviation or error to be adapted for use in context. Interpretation after-the-fact transforms variation from random to non-random. Adaptation then converges toward innovative outcomes. Whereas bottlenecks constrain the path (sequence of steps in a problem-solving process), tolerance windows constrain its frame (whole pattern emerging).

Sixth, assess interim performance. Assessing interim results allows integration to complement elimination.Guided by criteria to decide which interim results to retain and interpret, ZIG and ZIR draw their zebra. In contrast to Karl Popper’s theory that scientific knowledge advances by testing and eliminating least fit theories, evolutionary emergence allows definitions and boundaries to start blurry, co-evolve and emerge to increasing specificity and focus as interim results are interpreted.

Seventh, recognize patterns emerging, anticipating pattern completion. Recognizing emergent patterns in partial data and augmenting incomplete patterns innovates from uncertainty with flexibility to recognize fuzzy patterns emerging. In contrast, by allowing only the final result to be tested, Popper fails to recognize partial, not yet testable, patterns emerging, which should survive to be brought into focus.

Eighth, link collaborative, autonomous, self-organizing components into emergent networks. Linking collaborative, autonomous components into emergent networks, as ZIG and ZIR create a zebra image by continually adapting an earlier imperfect image into a better one develops new synergies. Collaborative autonomy enables agents jointly to recognize and develop shared synergies. Whether molecules collaborate to invent life, or organelles collaborate to make a functioning cell, or arguments collaborate to construct a hypothesis, or humans collaborate to solve a problem, in each case components bring their uniqueness and autonomy to the collaborative process. Instead collaborative autonomy in human problem-solving avoids the lowest-common-denominator of committees, where individual uniqueness is lost and diversity is weeded out to achieve consensus. As in an ecological niche, the interacting players do not have the same needs so collaborative autonomy does not require agents to seek consensus.

Ninth, converge on emergent innovation by seeking coherence. Converge toward innovation by seeking coherence preserves “genetic diversity,” rich raw material is retained, both in Nature and in human problem-solving. Diverse needs are positioned in a larger framework, enabling the process in which they collaborate to converge toward increasing synergy and coherence.


Diagram, Drawings & Watercolors  © Zann Gill
Gill, Zann. 2013. Wikipedia: Case Study of Innovation Harnessing Collaborative Intelligence. In:The Experimental Nature of New Venture Creation: Capitalizing on Open Innovation 2.0, edited by Martin Curley and Piero Formica. Dordrecht, Springer.
Gill, Zann. 2007. How bio-dynamics inform design process innovation: harnessing principles from complex adaptive systems; ICCS 2007, Internat’l Conference on Complex Systems, Boston. November 3.

spacer-shRelated topics:

earthDECKS as the neXt game 

       Emerging meta•Discipline: Collaborative Intelligence (CIQ)
Design, Synthesis & Collaborative Intelligence

       Tragedy of the Commons & Collaborative Intelligence
       The APR Hypothesis: autonomy + pattern recognition