Mel Conway Profile picture
Jun 14 28 tweets 6 min read
Every so often there will be a burst of Twitter conversations on the “Reverse Conway Manoeuver” and related topics.
I find this encouraging, but not for a reason you might suspect.

Hear me out; this is important.
These conversations are signs of the development of a sub-community within the software community that is aware of structural design (as distinguished from aesthetic design) as an important discipline unto itself. Aside from the field of Architecture, I think this is rare.
I am here to tell you that the software design community is in possession of something precious. The community must husband it and pass it on to the larger world.

Let me explain why this is important.
Here is my bottom-line view of Conway’s Law after a half century.

It is a cautionary tale about the high social costs of missed opportunities that might have arisen from human communication paths that should have, but didn’t, exist.

My argument:
Politics is design. A body of law, precedent, and regulation is a design document; its artifacts are the systems within which we conduct our lives. But it is barely self-aware; it has been subject to local pushes and pulls, in time and space, throughout our history.
I’m going to show you two examples of unaware political design that affects us all and exacts a very high social price.
A. The Invisible Hand scales up perversely.

Our economic system contains a tragic flaw that, at scales not contemplated by Adam Smith, is producing systemic inequity and environmental destruction.
These outcomes are, in part, phenomena of scale, both of numbers and of interconnectedness. They are also, in part, consequences of non-communicating design teams specifying distinct subsystems that have mutual dependencies.
Here is this argument in more detail, framed within an educational purpose. You will see multiple perverse social outcomes that show up at scale.…
If indeed politics is design, we have a politics with no effective design review process.
B. Our liberal tradition is no match for the new alliance of very high connectivity and malicious opportunism.
This alliance is manifesting as conspiracy theories (e.g., QAnon), massive propagation of disinformation (e.g., anti-vax/anti-science, Stop the Steal), and epidemic violence (e.g., threats to public officials, mass shootings).
We are befuddled by these outcomes, just as our predecessors were befuddled by epidemics such as Plague and Smallpox.

About two centuries ago the medical community pulled ahead of the political community by adopting the germ theory of disease.…
Germ theory has enabled a productive approach to development of interventions by providing a
*theoretical framework*
within which investigators can obtain
*physical evidence of transmissible pathogens*
that connect disease at two levels: individual and population.
The power of this combination of
1. A theoretical framework into which investigators can fit physical evidence of
2. Transmissible pathogens that connect
3. Individual disease and
4. Public disease
is that it forwards the body of knowledge of
5. Public-health interventions.
Politics has no theoretical framework for generating new interventions parallel to that provided by germ theory. Instead, as in other pre-sciences, we are left with story-telling, which can be useful but is not an extensible platform on which to build.
My research of the past two years has suggested an opening:

Repurpose Dawkins’s Meme, not as gene-analogue but as Transmissible Pathogen where, in my view, it is truly useful. This suggests concepts such as “meme contagion” and “meme epidemiology”.
The meme-as-transmissible-pathogen concept applies easily to conspiracy, disinformation propagation, and epidemic violence, but can it be theoretically productive in terms of providing an extensible platform for generating interventions?
My work says: Yes, but we have to deal with The Big Problem:
The way we’re organized blocks our ability to do the work.

Conway’s Law strikes again.

The work has required a creative synthesis of object design, applied mathematics, and psychology. It is weird new territory.
I have extended psychological attachment theory using object-design concepts to arrive at an object definition of a meme (which, importantly, requires no physical existence; it is simply a commonly-held reference).

20/28 Twenty-five geese in a column crossing a road. This is an il
Here is an early, and incomplete, diagram of an object model of the followers of a meme (in the dotted rectangle). Importantly, this is a form that could be, with a lot more work, turned into an agent-based simulator.…
In this recent draft summary of my work I characterize meme contagion as an emergent phenomenon of a population, and I use the emergence model to suggest that new interventions can arise from understanding low-level interactions within the population…
Here’s The Big Problem.
The people on the design team will need to speak a common design language. But the people required for this work barely speak with each other at all.
This is C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures” thesis. It's a corollary of Conway’s Law:…
…The design organization is the academy. Its artifacts are populations of professors and students whose behaviors reflect their department-specific training.

I call the two populations it produces the “reading-list folks” and the “problem-set folks”.
We have got ourselves into trouble by mindlessly extending domains in which existing methods might once have worked. In the case of higher education we’ve done this by unquestioningly extending an ancient system originally built around disjoint skill-based guilds.
Bottom line:
Our massively interconnected global-scale political system needs to be refactored.

Of course we don’t have the foggiest idea how to go about doing this. (Or how to obtain support to do it.)
But at the very least, the design community needs to consider reframing
*politics as a design problem*.
That will require applying structural design thinking in new directions. That’s where a self-aware design community comes in.

You are in possession of a precious resource. It’s time to start thinking about how to apply that resource to the benefit of the world community.

• • •

Missing some Tweet in this thread? You can try to force a refresh

Keep Current with Mel Conway

Mel Conway Profile picture

Stay in touch and get notified when new unrolls are available from this author!

Read all threads

This Thread may be Removed Anytime!


Twitter may remove this content at anytime! Save it as PDF for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video
  1. Follow @ThreadReaderApp to mention us!

  2. From a Twitter thread mention us with a keyword "unroll"
@threadreaderapp unroll

Practice here first or read more on our help page!

More from @conways_law

Feb 12
@IntuitMachine In this light you can read what is going on on dozens of US states to disenfranchise minority voters as the last gasp of the population you call "rural" before they are overwhelmed by demographic change and the general urbanization of America.
Acknowledging this,...
@IntuitMachine I am looking for a different phenomenon (see below). My writings on this have been very fragmented; it's a new model with (1)many moving parts (2)from different normally non-communicating disciplines (such as personality theory and network analysis).

@IntuitMachine (Note the graphic in the previous tweet.)
The new phenomenon: behavior (political behavior in this context) arises from:
a personality object ("disposition to action", or
"d2a") that turns attention-directed stimuli into action.
Read 12 tweets
Feb 10
Humanity is an intelligent Individual organism.

(Please read that again.)
It is a one-of-a-kind Individual that we’ll give the name “Humanity” here.

Humanity’s major components at any moment are the humans alive at that moment.
Let’s think about Humanity’s development as an Individual.

Humanity’s age, depending on how you think about it, is between about 50,000 years and perhaps five times that.

Despite this age, it is barely self-aware.
Read 19 tweets
Jul 1, 2021
If I were to start a book today about my research, I imagine that I would begin Chapter 1 this way.
* * *
“What do you do?”
I write about politics.
“You mean, things like party strategy?”
No, it's much more basic than that.
“Ok, what do YOU think politics is?”

*Politics is one of mankind’s first, and by far its most successful, force-multiplier technologies.*

Politics is the technology by which human groups govern their activities purposefully at scale.

Its history is as old as, and is at the root of the success of, our species

Today, what we call “religion” and “politics” are merely current snapshots of an *Immense Journey* (h/t Loren Eiseley):
The evolution of human governance.

It began several thousand generations* ago.

*Conversion: 1 human generation = 25 Earth years.

Read 31 tweets
Jun 14, 2021
To: @ericevans0, @mathiasverraes, @swardley, @jessitron, @ruthmalan, @PezeshkiCharles, @personalitygeni, @FareedZakaria, and all others, named and unnamed, in the general design and strategy communities:

This essay is a trial run for a more accessible presentation intended for a general audience including historians, journalists, and other public intellectuals. I see you as a vanguard into this broader audience. Please share this with your colleagues.

We now have the opportunity to scale up the Domain-Driven Design process to the general-society level in order better to understand society-scale systems, including politics itself. That’s what I’ve been working on. I’ll outline the ideas here.

Read 48 tweets
Jun 1, 2021
Early in the 1950’s in Air Force ROTC I learned this mis-quotation of von Clausewitz: “War is politics by other means”. Little did I realize that 70 years later I would apply it to US politics by turning it inside out. Let me explain.…

My work is modeling how affinity groups, from cults to social clubs, stick together. Until very recently I have been focusing on the peculiar dynamics of the Republican party.

Now, if you follow the news (from most mainstream sources) about Washington politics, it looks like warfare between two groups of politicians. That’s the way the commentators and the politicians themselves talk about it.

Read 10 tweets
Apr 20, 2021
Setting aside momentarily, just to simplify the conversation, the urgent need for rapid change, if you think in terms of decades, children are in fact the drivers of change. This is inevitable, as the adult holders of power naturally pass from the scene.
From this perspective, the strategic question then becomes how best to harness this dynamic.

The late Clayton Christensen has provided a strategy in "The Innovator's Dilemma" that is sometimes called "disruptive innovation".
I discuss the general character of this strategy here in the context of education reform, but the model is the same in the use cases that concern you.

Read 7 tweets

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just two indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3/month or $30/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Don't want to be a Premium member but still want to support us?

Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal

Or Donate anonymously using crypto!


0xfe58350B80634f60Fa6Dc149a72b4DFbc17D341E copy


3ATGMxNzCUFzxpMCHL5sWSt4DVtS8UqXpi copy

Thank you for your support!

Follow Us on Twitter!