The Edge of Chaos is a project of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. In his recent book Where Good Ideas Come From Steven Johnson describes what he calls the natural history of innovation, his effort to begin to explain the characteristics of the genesis and development of novel ideas. Johnson describes what he sees are the characteristics of creativity and innovation, essential ingredients for solving complex problems or for encouraging novel ideas, whether these are in science, economics, or education. Ideas flourish where there is openness and connectivity as opposed to competition or efforts to protect and isolate ideas.
Innovative systems, Johnson writes, gravitate to the boundary between complete order and absolute randomness, what he calls “the edge of chaos”. Here there is noise and error, environments where it is more likely good ideas will emerge. Creating a space where new ideas can flourish, where noise and error are celebrated, and where time is available for people to connect is essential to the faculty at the School of Public Health. These joys are largely lost in the pressures to maintain funding, pursue academic advancement, and teach, all juggled with varying degrees of success.
The Edge of Chaos is an initial step toward creating a space where faculty can explore novel ideas in an open and collaborative space. Here new, if not unique, collaborations and partnerships will emerge as faculty from the School of Public Health and other units on campus spend time together exploring the boundaries of science where the most complex and thorny probelms are found.
From these interactions will come new research efforts, new opportunities for students, and new ways of exploring problems facing the global community.