Talking of networks and ‘network effects’, Duncan J. Watts professor of sociology at Columbia University and the author of “Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age”, has written a very interesting piece in New York Times on why the business of ‘cultural’ is so unpredictable. He shows how the power of social influence is not just limited to ‘cultural’ products like music (visit his MusicLab project), but also to technologies, consumer products… perhaps anything where people have a choice and where these people are part of a society. What does that leave?

He concludes the NYT article:

…just because we now know that something happened doesn’t imply that we could have known it was going to happen at the time, even in principle, because at the time, it wasn’t necessarily going to happen at all.

That doesn’t mean we should stop trying to anticipate the future, any more than we should stop trying to make sense of the past. But it does mean that we should treat both the predictions and the explanations we are served — whether about the next hit single, the next great company or even the next war — with the skepticism they deserve.

First published on September 13, 2007