Complexity and networks favor teams

The Internet is a network. It’s not a hierarchy. In fact, the DNA of the Internet is a distributed network that has no hierarchy, has no center-point. On the Internet, there is no one definitive way to get to anywhere. The best way at any given moment depends on the exact circumstances of that given moment.

The Internet is remaking human society, how we organize, how we interact, make decisions, do things. And the Internet is part of a general trend driven by complexity, rapid change, and increasingly global interconnectedness, which demands a network response, a team response.

In Ireland, there is a game called hurling which goes back thousands of years into myth and legend. This year has been an extraordinary year for hurling, with some of the best games in memory. Limerick ended up winning the All-Ireland Final. Limerick, and their beaten finalists, Galway, were very much team-driven. Ireland has another unique sport called Gaelic football. Dublin is dominating and Dublin is team-driven too.

Team-driven means that there are no superstars, no individuals upon which everything depends. The team is the unit of performance. Both Gaelic football and hurling have speeded up enormously in recent years. In such fast, frenetic, unpredictable environments, the idea of a manager orchestrating play is simply not possible. The purpose of the manager is to help build a team that, once it goes out on the pitch, is able to adapt and make decisions based on what is happening. Sure, there is a game plan, but it is at the edges of the game plan where games are won. The players—the team—need to become the decision makers, the leaders.

A key factor in successful sports team dynamics, whether it be for Limerick, Galway, Dublin or the New Zealand All Blacks, is humility. In complex, fast-paced environments, those that thrive are those who want to constantly learn, who are hungry for performance data, those who are willing to fit in when fitting in is the right option, and stand out when the moment demands.

It is more and more difficult for an individual to succeed on their own today. The unified, cohesive team has a greater chance to deal with uncertainty and speed. As the speed of change increases, the need for teams become even greater. As complexity increases, the need for teams increases. Individuals can simply not keep up with the pace of change we face today.

Of course, individual talent matters. However, on its own it has little chance against a cohesive team. Of course, there is still a need for introverts and the insights that they can bring. However, at some point, the insights must feed into a team or a network if anything of real importance is going to be achieved. The lonely scientific genius is an increasingly endangered species. We may love to hear stories about mavericks who buck the system, but these are modern-day fairytales. The future is a team sport.

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