Emergence is the idea that from simple actions, complex systems can arise. Over the past several days I have been dealing with ants in my place of residence, and this concept has been on my mind.
An individual ant, going through life, isn’t very destructive. They basically just wander around until they encounter something of interest. From there other ants that are wandering around randomly will encounter the trail from the first, and follow that trail. Over time several ants, all wandering around, eventually stumble upon these trails and start following them. Pretty soon you have a trail of ants, seemingly organized, but that arose from just a single ant’s lucky encounter.
In an interview I recently watched with Erik Spiekermann, he talks about how much of his knowledge wasn’t gained through study, but rather by diving into a project he was interested in, and learning as he went. His anecdote about the print shop relates very closely to my own experience, and how I learned much of what I know about web design by simply diving in, and learning as I go.
The interesting thing is that back then, I couldn’t dream of some of the stuff I am doing now, but the knowledge wasn’t gained in a linear process. Little lessons were picked up along the way, and each new project brought with it a new challenge to conquer. Bit by bit I was assembling a knowledge base, and while the end result seems vast, it was built simply, over time.