After my last article, I received an email from a readersaying he couldn't care less what I thought of anything outside of marketing. This, of course, has inspired me to write about a nonmarketing topic. (But we're fairly certain Eric's thoughts will return to marketing by his next article. --Editor).
A terrorist organization is a network -- a loosely affiliated group of nodes that exhibit emergent properties as they form, execute a task, and then disband. Their organization fits within the standard model of modern complexity theory: nodes of prominence emerge naturally as the forces of coevolutionary development (namely, natural selection and auto catalysis) battle it out. That is to say that terrorists are, in a sense, born not made (and no, I don't mean that as a slight on Arabs or the Islamic culture).
Open source and complexity theory hold strategic keys to managing risk in the age of terrorism.
The Internet is also a loosely affiliated group of nodes that exhibit emergent properties. In fact, if the structures of the two organizations were lined up side by side, they would be nearly indistinguishable. As such, that which seriously damages the Internet could teach us tactical lessons about damaging a terrorist network.
The Nimda virus hurt the Internet more than corporations are willing to acknowledge. This sucker impeded performance, and certain systems are still cleaning up. A virus temporarily brought a portion of the Internet to a crawl: our first clue.
Terrorist networks are distributed intelligence. They do not respond to attacks of command and control architecture -- tank battalions are pretty useless. Hacks against computer networks, on the other hand, provide a blueprint for harm:
This is where the Internet analogy incorporates complexity theory. The life cycle of a complex system (be it terrorist network, ecosystem, or Internet) runs as follows:
For business, this means distributed approaches to organization are now doubly important. And, while I hate to admit that we can learn from the open source movement (if only because Eric S. Raymond wrote the single most asinine piece of the decade in response to the terrorist strike) -- well, it's true. We can.
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