I can’t recall how I stumbled onto this concept and websites, but a while ago I found this riveting theory which I believe explains why most modern organizations are so inadequate at times and spend far too much time chasing the wrong priorities. I have touched on parts of this in previous blogs such as Driven to Distraction and Even the Best Systems Fall Victim and A List of Guidance.
The reason why this happens is they fail to embrace Complexity Science.
Basically, it is because our social institutions continue to operate like machines, believing that events can be tracked in a linear fashion and have measurable inputs that neatly match known outputs. While there is no denying that some institutions do operate like machines (take most factories), the fact that humans end up doing most of the work leaves the model sorely lacking.
What is more accurate is to realize that all human based organizations are non-linear and complex. It is common for these systems to exhibit the following characteristics:
- Small inputs can lead to dramatically large consequences.
- Very slight differences in initial conditions produce very different outcomes.
- Global properties flow from aggregate behavior of individuals.
- Emergence (of order) is certain, but there is no certainty as to what it will be.
- Greater diversity of agents in a system leads to richer emergent patterns.
- Change is continuous and prediction and control are impossible.
- Be prepared to adapt In living systems where relationships and connections are critical.
- Self-organization requires a constant flow/access to information and the capacity/commitment to reflect on what is learned.
- Good Enough visions should be supported by minimum specifications or principles to leave room for new ideas to emerge.
- Paradoxes and tensions exist so we need to work with them and challenge our assumptions; Be comfortable to sustain creative tension and mix cooperation with competition.
Despite continuous examples of human nature rejecting the machinist worldview, we keep on assuming that it is the most sensible way of viewing our world. I have seen it all of the time in Health Care where immense energy is spent to measure everything in an effort to track inputs and thus control outcomes. We see it in the movement of ISO 9001.
We would all be better served if we changed our practice to make plans that identify minimum specifications; defining only a few key requirements which must be met in order to achieve a shared vision. We need to for flexibility and prepare for a variety of possible futures.
To learn more about Complexity Science or Complex Adaptive Systems check out…