Sixteen (i)

Dom and I met up for dinner and Dom set the tone. He was in one of his particular frames of mind.

He had been reading Fault Lines by Raghuram G. Rajan at my recommendation. It’s a fascinating book about the way the global financial system broke down, and Dom had continued to investigate the understanding of financial market complexity. Complexity was not, he told me, well understood.

Complexity is the phenomena that emerge from a collection of interacting objects. The interacting objects could be molecules of air and the phenomenon the weather. It could be vehicles and the phenomenon the traffic. It could be stockbrokers and the phenomenon the stock market.

Human ‘objects’ could be the population of Cairo, “the 99%”, sports fans in a sports stadium, people who like photos of cats, your customers, or your employees; in fact, any collection of people interacting with each other. Influencing each other.

“Most things mankind is interested in are complex – in other words they exhibit traits of complexity – and yet time and time again people don’t understand it. Instead, they develop superstitions or myths or stories or ‘rules’ to help come to terms with the phenomena they witness, indeed anything it seems but address reality head on.”

I got the feeling something had rubbed Dom up the wrong way.

“Take celebrity culture.”

Now he was on a roll.

“I’m supposed to buy a SiQi TV because that bloke in the films, what’s-his-name, appears on an ad telling us he’s got one and loves it. Firstly, he was most likely given it if he does indeed have one, and a wad of cash to promote it, and many people who see the ad know that. Secondly, he might be on TV, but I don’t see how that makes him a TV set expert, and many people who see the ad know that. Thirdly, if I was in the market for a new TV and I did buy this SiQi one, did I really buy it because of that ad? Or because he was in it? Possibly not.

“My impressions of SiQi, of what it stands for, of its engineering prowess, of its aesthetics, of its customer service, of its general approach to the world, has formed like sedimentary rock over many years from my experiencing its products and services and competing products and services, from talking with friends and family about their experiences, from seeing what SiQi gets involved with and how it conducts business. In other words, I have interacted with lots of people in relation to the SiQi brand, products and services, and its competition. My eventual choice of TV is the output of a complex system.”