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Harrison-Broninski's Conjecture

Updated: Feb 18

Anyone who has published a book knows that the work doesn't end when you write the last word. If you want anyone ever to read it, you have to get out there and talk about it. You also have to tidy up the leftovers from previous books, for example to bring websites up to date with details of your new masterwork. As I start to do the former - which is enjoyable, since you get to interact with people and talk about ideas - it's been surprising to find that the latter, which I expected to be a chore, is actually almost as interesting.


For example, I just re-watched a short video I made to promote my 2005 book, "Human Interactions", which argues:

  • Much work is gradually being automated, so the human work left over is more important than ever - it is the only competitive differentiator left, and such work depends fundamentally on collaboration.

  • Yet new software tools have only made communication quicker, not made collaboration more efficient - individual workers are running harder than ever to stand still, and organizations have lost the ability to manage their workforce.

  • We all need to collaborate better - to adopt a simple, general approach that meets both individual and organizational needs, and is supported by software.

Fifteen years later, does this still ring true for you? Does your day, like mine, include messages over Slack, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, WhatsApp, SMS, and multiple email accounts? Do you too have calls scheduled on Teams, Meet, Zoom, and Skype? Do you wonder how much time you spend actually being productive, as opposed to simply being active? The promo video for my first book talks about network overload being even worse than information overload - and both have increased relentlessly since I made it.


Part of the premise of my new book Supercommunities is that organisations in a community need to collaborate better, by adopting the formal, structured approach that in 2005 I called Human Interaction Management. Otherwise attempts to work together generate so much friction - unproductive heat - that they are unlikely to produce the desired results. I've believed since the late 1980s that reducing the level of friction in human collaboration is more important than anything else in making society work better. I can't prove it, so it's what mathematicians would call a conjecture. Others might say it was a maxim - a guiding principle.


For me at least, Harrison-Broninski's Conjecture rings true since it chimes with another belief, so well expressed recently by Rutger Bregman, that people are inherently friendly and peaceful, with natural altruistic instincts. We have distrust, suspicion, and conflict not because we want them, but because poor collaboration generates so much heat that eventually something burns. If we want cooler heads, and a cooler planet, we need to start working together better - which means applying some science to the way in which we do it.

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