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Diversity and Complexity

How Diversity Can Contribute to The Performance of Adaptive Systems

By Scott E. Page
  • Read in 18 minutes
  • Contains 11 key ideas
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Diversity and Complexity by Scott E. Page

Diversity and Complexity (2011) offers an in-depth examination of the nature of the world's complex systems, from natural ecosystems to economic markets. It outlines the reasons that diversity within such systems is so crucial, as well as showing how diversity helps fuel innovation and novelty.

Key idea 1 of 11

There are three forms of diversity: within types, between types and of composition.

What do you have in your refrigerator? You may have the same types of foods, like various kinds of cheeses. You’ll also have foods of different types, like eggs, milk and meat.

Why is this important? The differences between these items illustrate an important theme: there are three types of differences between things. In other words, there are three types of diversity.

First, there's diversity within a type. This kind of diversity is determined by the variations in the type’s particular characteristics.

Think about a specific species of animal, like a cardinal. Each cardinal is unique – some are redder or have slightly smaller beaks – but they’re all still cardinals. They’re all the same species of bird.

At some point, variations become so great that we can’t call them differences within a type anymore. Instead, we’re really looking at different types.

Compare cardinals and flamingoes. They’re similar enough to be the same type: they are birds. Yet they’re distinct enough to be considered a separate species. Cardinals and flamingoes are thus different types of birds.

The third kind of diversity is about the way separate parts are put together, called composition. Individual pieces can produce something quite different when they’re put together in a certain way.

Think about a washing machine or an airplane. They’re both comprised of several smaller parts, like bolts, screws and a spinning engine. However, these parts combine to create something completely new and distinct in each example.

So when considering diversity, we have three types. Diversity within a type can be called variation, diversity between types can be called variety, and then there's the factor of composition.

But how are these sorts of diversity created? Read on for more.

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