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Magazines > Information Today > January 2003
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Information Today
Vol. 20 No. 1 — January 2003
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 upi.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
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