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The Practice of Change

Joichi Ito's Dissertation for PhD in the Graduate School of Media & Governance at Keio University

Academic Year 2018


Over the last century civilization has systematically supported a market-based approach to developing technical, financial, social and legal tools that focus on efficiency, growth and productivity. In this manner we have achieved considerable progress on some of the most pressing humanitarian challenges, such as eradicating infectious diseases and making life easier and more convenient. However, we have often put our tools and methods of use with little regard to their systemic or long-term effects, and have thereby created a set of new, interconnected, and more complex problems. Our new problems require new approaches: new understanding, solution design and intervention. Yet we continue to try to solve these new problems with the same tools that caused them.

Therefore in my dissertation I ask:

How can we understand and effectively intervene in interconnected complex adaptive systems?

In particular, my thesis presents through theory and practice the following contributions to addressing these problems:

  1. A post-Internet framework for understanding and intervening in complex adaptive systems. Drawing on systems dynamics, evolutionary dynamics and theory of change based on causal networks, I describe a way to understand and suggest ways to intervene in complex systems. I argue that an anti-disciplinary approach and paradigm shifts are required to achieve the outcomes we desire.
  2. Learnings from the creation and management of post-Internet organizations that can be applied to designing and deploying interventions. I propose an architecture of layers of interoperability to unbundle complex, inflexible, and monolithic systems and increase competition, cooperation, generativity, and flexibility. I argue that the Internet is the best example of this architecture and that the Internet has provided an opportunity to deploy this architecture in other domains. I demonstrate how the Internet has has made the world more complex but through lowering the cost of communication and collaboration has enabled new forms of organization and production. This has changed the nature of our interventions.
  3. How and why we must change the values of society from one based on the measurement of financial value to flourishing and robustness. The paradigm determines what we measure and generates the values and the goals of a system. Measuring value financially has created a competitive market-based system that has provided many societal benefits but has produced complex problems not solvable through competitive market-based solutions. In order to address these challenges, we must shift the paradigm across our systems to focus on a more complex measure of flourishing and robustness. In order to transcend our current economic paradigm, the transformation will require a movement that includes arts and culture to transform strongly held beliefs. I propose a framework of values based on the pursuit of flourishing and a method for transforming ourselves.

Reflecting on my work experience, I examine my successes and failures in the form of learnings and insights. I discuss what questions are outstanding and conclude with a call to action with a theory of change; we need to bring about a fundamental normative shift in society through communities, away from the pursuit of growth for growth's sake and towards a sustainable sensibility of flourishing that can draw on both the historical examples and the sensibilities of some modern indigenous cultures, as well as new values emerging from theoretical and practical progress in science.


Cybernetics, Systems Dynamics, Philosophy of Science, Internet, Cryptocurrency

Advisors / Readers

Jun Murai, Keio University

Rodney Van Meter, Keio University Keiko Okawa, Keio University Hiroya Tanaka, Keio University Jonathan L. Zittrain, Harvard University


The Branch on Github offset-for-binding is a version with a BCOR=25mm which is an offset for the printers in Japan to provide enough space for the binding. This is the version used for the final printed version submitted to Keio University. Use this version if you need 2 cm of extra space on the left side.

The main branch has BCOR=5mm which is the default for Classicthesis Typographic Thesis LaTeX Template Version 1.4 (1/1/16)

Reading the document

The document is written in LaTeX. You can download the compiled PDF from:

Errata and updates

  • In Section "Postscript to Emergent Democracy," I wrote, "For example, Martin Luther King Jr. met with Mahatma Gandhi to discuss nonviolent protest strategy." Martin Luther King never met Gandhi, but did correspond with him and met with his followers. The section now reads "For example, Martin Luther King Jr. read Mahatma Gandhi's works and corresponded with Gandhi's associates and discussed nonviolent protest strategy." and has been updated in version 1.1.
  • October 5, 2018 - Added Japanese abstract translated by Hiroo Yamagata.
  • November 1, 2018 - fixed two typos found by Blake Elias.


If you would like to compile the document yourself, you will need LaTeX installed.


Joichi Ito - Joi


This project is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license - see the LICENSE file for details


To my late godfather Timothy Leary for "Question Authority and Think For Yourself."

To Jun Murai for pushing me to do this dissertation.

To my thesis advisors: Hiroya Tanaka, Rodney D. Van Meter, Keiko Okawa and Jonathan L. Zittrain for their extensive feedback, guidance and encouragement.

To Nicholas Negroponte for the Media Lab and his mentorship.

To the late Kenichi Fukui for encouraging me to think about complex systems and the limits of reduction.

To the late John Perry Barlow for the "Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace."

To Hashim Sarkis for sending me in the direction of Foucault.

To Martin Nowak for his guidance on Evolutionary Dynamics.

To my colleagues at MIT and particularly at the Media Lab for continuous inspiration and my raison d'être.

To my research colleagues Karthik Dinakar, Chia Evers, Natalie Saltiel, Pratik Shah, and Andre Uhl for helping me with everything including this thesis.

To Yuka Sasaki, Stephanie Strom and Mika Tanaka for their help on helping me pull this dissertation together.

To David Weinberger for "The final edit."

To Sean Bonner, Danese Cooper, Ariel Ekblaw, Pieter Franken, Mizuko Ito, Mike Linksvayer, Pip Mothersill, Diane Peters, Deb Roy and Jeffrey Shapard for their feedback on various parts of the dissertation.

Finally, thanks to Kio and Mizuka for making room in our family life to work on this and for supporting me through the process.

Template Used

Classicthesis Typographic Thesis LaTeX Template Version 1.4 (1/1/16)

This template has been downloaded from:

Original author: André Miede ( with commenting modifications by: Vel (

License: GNU General Public License (v2)

General Tips:

  1. Make sure to edit the classicthesis-config.file
  2. New enumeration (A., B., C., etc in small caps): \begin{aenumerate} \end{aenumerate}
  3. For margin notes: \marginpar or \graffito{}
  4. Do not use bold fonts in this style, it is designed around them
  5. Use tables as in the examples
  6. See classicthesis-preamble.sty for useful commands


The Practice of Change - PhD Dissertation by Joichi Ito for Keio University Graduate School of Media and Governance







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