Thoughts on the Santa Fe Institute
November 14, 2010 Leave a comment
A topic of considerable thought, discussion and debate for many of us long before a series of ever-larger crises, the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) chose the theme of complexity in regulation for their annual meeting this week. Prior to sharing my thoughts on the important topic of simplifying regulation in a future post, which will be covered more extensively in my book in progress, I want to focus a bit on SFI.
I was fortunate to attend last year’s 25th anniversary meeting at SFI, but this year I was only able to view the final full day via webcast, which was excellent. The official SFI about page can be found here, although having written many of these descriptions myself; I’ve yet to write or read one that captures the essence of the organization, people, or contributions, so please allow the liberty of a few additional lines in first person.
I have been following SFI regularly for over 15 years, and since moving to Santa Fe nearly two years ago have had many interactions. SFI essentially pioneered complexity as a discipline, but has also been a leader in what I refer to in my own work as a mega disciplinary approach to discovery, without which frankly many researchers and their cultures can become blinded, and discoveries stalled, with R&D performing substantially below potential.
One of several strengths at SFI is their ability to draw from a very broad universe of scholars, each of whom is a leading expert in a specific discipline, but also share an interest in complexity theory—which affects everything else, as well as the need to work across disciplines to optimize learning.
The intimate size and environment of SFI is no doubt partially responsible for attracting so many leading scholars to contribute and engage. After living in Santa Fe, visiting the campus and attending multiple events, with a great many exchanges with larger institutions for 30 years, I can certainly understand the appeal for permanent faculty, visiting scholars, post docs, and business network members.
This year’s event was organized by Chris Wood and David Krakauer, who are two individuals at SFI I have had the pleasure to get to know recently (forgive my informality here; it comes natural). David heads up the faculty and Chris divides his time between research, administration, and running the SFI business network. These two represent a diverse faculty and also make an interesting combination, with Chris being the calm diplomatic type while David exudes sufficient rebelliousness at times for me to wonder, despite his brilliance, how he prospered at Cambridge (due to my own rebel instincts and frustration with academia), until reflecting on his current role. It is precisely the challenge when shepherding deep diversity that brings out the best in people; one of several skills David demonstrates when leading groups.
A good way to learn more about SFI from afar is to view a sample of their research online, including videos. Their model, however, like many—is not perfect, as the institute is substantially dependent on donations in what has been a very uncertain time and economy of late, so for those who may be seeking a worthy tax deduction this year, I would urge you to consider a donation. For larger corporations and foundations, I recommend exploring the SFI business network, which is similar in many respects to the experimental virtual network I operated in the late 1990s, but also benefits from the physical conference interactions throughout the year, not just with SFI scientists and staff, but also with other business network members. Several of our network members have also been business network members of SFI, so I have known quite a few over the past dozen years, including Franz Dill on our Kyield advisory board who represented P & G for many years at SFI. For corporate and foundation executives in particular, I highly recommend viewing a short video interview with SFI Vice President Nancy Deutsch to explore relationship options.
Unlike universities and federal labs that grew large physical empires with massive overhead, the small size of SFI, fewer conflicts, independence, location and talent attract exceptional human quality, providing a rare situation certainly worth preserving and improving. My hope for SFI is that the community and entity will continue to adapt, evolve, and forge a strong and diverse financial structure that could become a model for the future.
While it may not always be obvious to some of my colleagues in business and finance, the independent theoretical research produced by SFI is essential for thinking through and eventually helping to overcome the world’s most pressing challenges, which is from my perspective excellent long term strategic alignment for any mission statement.Mark Montgomery Founder & CEO Kyield