1. Introducing The Spread Papers

How do you spread things? How do you spread ideas? How do you spread behavioral change? How do you spread products and services?

The Spread Papers is a collection of papers written by Mark Turrell that describe the emergent ‘Science of Spread’. In each paper, Mark develops a concept that underpins Spread, and highlights the implications for people and organizations looking to harness ‘spread’ as a means of spreading their own ideas, behavioral changes, and, of course, products and services.

These papers lay out the foundational concepts of the science of spread, with the goal of helping people understand spread, use spread to be able to predict likely outcomes of systems and actions within a system, and ultimately to help those knowledgeable in the method to design and architect their own programs for spread.

These concepts of spread have been developed over a period of four years, and moves beyond Mark’s original pioneering work on Collective Intelligence that began in 1993.

We all observe things spreading. We have watched the spread of Facebook, and the iPhone. We have noticed the explosion in the number of TV channels in the last twenty years, although now we no longer notice as we have other things that attract our attention.

Cumulative sales of Apple Products (Source Asymco)

We are shocked to see the UK enter into four days of rioting in 2011 (Wikipedia entry). And overjoyed to see and feel the passion and human emotion from the 2012 London Olympics.

We watch the Arab Spring unfolding in many countries, leading to revolutions in some countries, and crack-down and apathy in in others. We then struggle to understand how a poorly-made YouTube video denigrating muslims sparks mass rioting across several countries (See ‘The Innocence of Muslims’ 2012)

Spread seems so obvious that very few people ever stop to think about how spread actually occurs. We notice the things that positively spread, and ignore the things that do not spread. We pick up on one or two aspects that seem to explain the spread behavior, such as the rather spurious argument for the ‘Facebook Revolution’ in Egypt, and do not spend the time to delve deeper to explore whether this by itself was a sufficient cause to spread revolution, or merely just a small part in a wider set of circumstances.

And yet, I believe that deep knowledge of the Science of Spread is critical to developing understanding of the world around us, and will give us a new set of eyes to see how the world really works.

For the last five years have seen huge changes in the ‘spread’ potential of the world. A single online platform, Facebook, reached one billion users within less than a decade. Smart phones appear everywhere today, and yet they barely existed a few years ago.

The ability for humans to connect and share at scale is a dramatic change in human evolution. Even to call it ‘evolutionary’ is to neglect the revolutionary nature of the change. Things – all things – are becoming more spreadable, and this knowledge must be internalized with urgency for those who wish to spread good things, and for those would like to stop bad things spreading too.

The Spread Papers develops a set of core concepts, foundational building blocks that help construct the spread model. In addition the Spread Papers include insights into specific areas of the overall system, insights that may provoke the subject matters experts in these areas, but insights that help build a more rounded view of the world.

“I see things you can’t see” – Anton van Leeuvenhook 1632-1723

In the 1660’s Anton van Leuwenhoek spend ten years of his life writing scientific papers on how he saw small things moving in water drops. Clearly, if you reach out and find some water to look at, Leuwenhoek was crazy. For, if you look at water with the naked eye, you cannot see anything move. Finally a group of scientists from the newly formed Royal Society in London came to visit the crazy Dutchman at his laboratory at Delft in Holland. When they arrived at his workshop, they realized that Leuwenhoek had invented… the microscope.

The small things had always been there. We, as humans, had lacked the eyes, the lens, to see them.

Throughout our human age on the planet, our advances have been driven by those inventors who developed lenses, new eyes on the world around us (and inside us). We can see deep into the stars. We can see inside our bodies. We can probe our brainwaves. We can follow and play with atoms and sub-atomic particles.

I believe that the work of the Spread Papers will form a new microscope. A new lens on the world. This is the human microscope, a lens that understands how we behave, that can predict how systems work, and that can be used to design new forms of behavior pattern.

Moreover, this lens is designed as a lens on complex systems. Humans are one form of complex system. Ants are another. The air molecules floating around your head is another. Your computer or device you are using to read this paper on-line is another. Almost every system you can imagine is complex (and we will explain what we mean by complex). And fortunately, complex systems often have patterns of behavior that replicate, that can be mapped on to other complex systems, either in whole or in part.

I believe that the Spread Papers will prompt a revolution. A revolution that is happening in any case, due to our increased connections in the world, and our decreasing ‘respect’ for the elements in systems that attempt to control the flow of information and action within systems. The Spread Papers will hopefully give those who wish to have positive impact in the world a new playbook, a new set of terms, a new set of eyes to look at the world differently, and make positive change at a global scale.

It takes a while to pull together such knowledge. Traditionally one would hide away in a mountain or beach resort writing a book, and spending eighteen months for the book to come out. While that is one way of spreading Spread, it is not as effective as other means. Therefore this collection of papers will be published online, some of them pre-written even as I am typing this (as it happens, on top of a mountain in Austria) and others in bullet point format, waiting to be expanded.

I welcome your feedback, your comments, your critiques, and your development ideas. This is one person’s view on the world, and my viewpoint today is unique I happily admit. I look forward to the debate, and while the debate takes place, I will continue to develop the concepts – and much more importantly, put them to use in real-world situations to test their merit, and to create reference models and case studies to prove their effectiveness.

And with that, welcome to the Spread Papers.

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One Response to “1. Introducing The Spread Papers”

  1. when do we get the reat of the spread papers 🙂

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