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David Weinberger's new book, Everyday Chaos, is honored with Axiom Award

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David Weinberger, a senior researcher a Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society and a longtime KMWorld columnist, has been honored with the Axiom gold medal for business commentary for his new book, Everyday Chaos: Technology, Complexity, and How We're Thriving in a New World of Possibility.

He recently reflected on the significance of the award and what he hopes readers will take away from reading his book. "It was a surprising honor—surprising because, while Everyday Chaos is a Harvard Review Book and most of its examples come from business, it doesn't confine itself to business," said Weinberger. "It's very gratifying that Axiom understood the book's broadest themes are relevant to business."

For example, said Weinberger, the book starts by looking at how the internet has changed assumption that the best way for business to manage the future is to anticipate it and prepare for it. "Of course, that's still often the case, but much of what's innovative, exciting, and distinctive about the internet are the many ways businesses have invented to benefit by holding off from anticipating what will happen—whether it's launching a minimum viable product to see what users actually want or letting users create and share extensions to your product. These changes in business practices signal a much more basic chance in our ideas about how the world works and how the future happens."

The same is true with the book's discussion of machine learning, he said. "While most of the examples come from the business world, Everyday Chaos uses them to get at the effect machine learning may be having on everything from the role of strategy, to our ideas about fairness, even to how we think things have meaning." 

Weinberger said he hopes the book sparks two types of conversations: Pragmatic and creative conversations about how individuals can thrive by creating more possibilities rather than always trying to reduce them, and also open and searching conversations about what it means to be humble creatures in a world that they ultimately can't understand. "If the internet has been teaching us to think about addressing the future less by trying to narrow it down, and more by trying to make more possibilities—to make more future, as the book puts it—then machine learning is bringing us to face what we have always known: the world far, far surpasses our ability to understand it, much less to control it. Everything affects everything else, all the time, forever. That sort of chaos is the truth of our lives, businesses, and world. Facing that fact is both deeply disturbing and liberating."

The fact that people seem to actually enjoy reading the book is "immensely satisfying," said Weinberger. He noted that he believes the book is striking a particular chord with readers because they appreciate and relate to the concept of "unanticipation" as an alternative strategy, as well as what the book conveys about strategy depending on a belief that the future is knowable and stable enough for us to base our businesses on long-term plans. "Instead, the book points to the ways in which businesses have already turned to far more agile ideas of strategy," he noted. 

"People also seem stimulated by the idea that while AI has to learn much more about ethics, the discipline of ethics actually has something to learn from AI. When you try to develop a machine learning application that affects people, you quickly learn that fairness is far more complex than we usually think, and also that fairness almost always requires us to make difficult trade-offs."

Everyday Chaos (Harvard Business Review Press) is available from Amazon.

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