KMWorld & Intranets 2003
Forrest Sawyer's Opening Keynote
by Terri Koenig
That voice is unmistakable. Away from the news desk during his opening keynote
speech at KMWorld & Intranets 2002, NBC/MSNBC news anchor Forrest Sawyer
appeared a little out of context. But as soon as he started speaking, he was
instantly familiar. What does a news anchor know about KM theory? Sawyer is
chairman and co-founderof Sawyer Media Systems, a company whose products are
designed to help enterprises use rich media effectively. He demonstrated his
KM knowledge by explaining chaos theory, complexity theory, and emergence.
He then related these ideas to the Internet.
As Sawyer described it, emergence is caused when change inside a system occurs
from the bottom up—i.e., local behavior becomes global behavior. This growth
is exponential. It happens slowly in the beginning until it reaches a critical
mass.Sawyer said thatsystems want tobe in a steady state, but external forces
make them change. We often don't recognize emergent behavior until it's in
a steady state.
Yes, all this does relate to the Internet, which Sawyer noted is growing exponentially.
No one knows how it will ultimately be used or what its steady state will be.
Although the Internet's uses will emerge from evolution, its rapid growth,
much like the exponential growth in cities, needs to be investigated and managed.
Ever the newsman, Sawyer cited the example of al-Qaeda's organization. While
the U.S. government is hierarchical and bureaucratic, al-Qaeda is emergent.
It's able to easily adapt to external situations to achieve a steady state.
Sawyer also backed up his ideas about emergence by discussing the construction
of the Easter Island monuments. The island's inhabitants cut down so many trees
to build the structures that they eventually destroyed the native rain forest.
The rapid proliferation of the monuments was not managed, and there was no
prior investigation into what would happen to the environment if the trees
were cut down.
Sawyer's keynote certainly set the tone for the conference by putting the
attendees in a KM state of mind. He managed to make complex theory accessible
by citing real-world examples. He even livened up the audience with a pop quiz
and some jokes. After all, who doesn't like a well-placed jab at Bill O'Reilly?
Terri Koenig is managing editor of Information Today. Her e-mail
address is firstname.lastname@example.org.