‘What gets measured gets done’ is an old and familiar phrase. If we pay attention to product or patient safety then those measures improve. But over what time frame does this hold true? And is it the measures or the safety that gets better?
Here, in the video and transcript) below, John Atkinson in conversation with Stacey Hale at Design4Emergence, discusses Complexity in Systems. Answering questions such as: Any advice on keeping work in a complex ecosystem within manageable boundaries? True or false: “There are no best practices.” How do you put people at ease in a world obsessed with big data? You’re not saying to abandon strategy? Are you talking about designing an attractor? What do you say to a brand new consultant who wants to apply the Big Five of living systems to an organizational problem to create change? How much does it matter that people know that you’re pulling from the principles of biological systems to design organizational change?
When we think of our world all too often we think of it, ourselves, and our systems as an ordered thing. We make these maps, in our minds and in the minds of our organisations as places made up of ordered linear, perhaps even hierarchical constructs of straight lines and hard edges. An image we try to understand, but that in no real way reflects the nature of reality.
For reality is far different, it’s dynamic, it shifts, and it’s not straight at all. Much is invisible, and what we see is simply a glimpse of a surface of what may be true. Nature is astounding both in its complexity and in its simplicity. It is one.
Those boundaries we draw or even perhaps feel are in fact just constructs of our mechanical minds in a world craving order from chaos. But what if, Watts asks, those boundaries don’t even exist at all?
‘Reality is a marvellous system of wiggles’. And trying to straighten them out to fit into our need for order simply creates a false map that is no reality at all. (Introduced by Emma Loftus)
When we think about operating in systems, doing systems thinking, we seek to find and understand how systems work and how we may work within them. But of course there is another question we need to ask when considering this way of thinking. And that something is why? Why do we need to think in this holistic tangled way in the first place? When for the most, our lives and the organisations, tasks, roles and people within them, function perfectly well in the very lightness of thinking that is simple and linear, A to B thinking. (By Emma Loftus)
By John Atkinson. If we genuinely believe the world to be a complex place, we need to consciously embrace that complexity, not suppress it. Once we do this, we realise we cannot resolve our activity into standardised processes without forever generating unintended consequences to our actions. Recognising the world we live in as a complex environment doesn’t allow us to control it
Here are some sound pieces of advice: the more you know about a system, the better you are at predicting its behavior. If you want a large outcome, then put a large amount of effort into the process. For the best execution, plan ahead. These are all powerful strategies – but only if you are dealing with a linear system. For a complex system, this approach spells disaster
From John Atkinson. Cause and effect analysis is quite hard. The connection between our actions and their impact can sometimes be quite obscure. Events will be explained away according to the version of history that is prevalent in the organisation, the stories we always tell. Each organisation has these and they are more than familiar, peopled with heroes who saved us and fools whose decisions nearly wrecked us.
Another challenge in this area is that some systems belong to multiple SoS. In these cases, these systems receive requests from multiple SoS, some of which conflict with each other. It is typically up to the single system to decide which sets of changes to implement, leaving some SoS to pursue other alternatives for their desired SoS capability.
The five element theory is a way of taking a lot of information and organizing it in a way that makes it easy to understand. Used properly it becomes a way to understand complicated relationships and see solutions to problems. Martial arts strategy is a very complex dynamic and readily lends itself to being analyzed in a five element system.
Emergence is reflected in systems theory, but less so in safety management practice, or management generally. As systems become more complex, we must remain alert to the adaptive and maladaptive patterns and trends that emerge from the interactions and flows, and ensure a capacity to respond.
The living world is filled with striped and mottled patterns of contrasting colours; with sculptural equivalents of those patterns realised as surface crests and troughs, with patterns of organisation and behaviour even among individual organisms. People have long been temped to find some ‘intelligence’ behind all these biological patterns. In the early twentieth century the Belgian Symbolist playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, pondering the efficient organisation of bee and termite colonies asked; What is it that governs here? What is it that issues orders? Foresees the future? Elaborates, plans and preserves equilibrium? Administers and condemns to death?
We are increasingly aware that many our living systems – human and natural – are at risk today, as we face incredibly complex and interconnected challenges related to global security, environmental degradation, and inter-woven economies. Understanding the nature and dynamics of living systems, therefore, can shed light on how we think about our problems and our resources, and about the assumptions and the choices we make.
In this video Cesar Hidalgo at MIT asks intriguing questions about how social and economic systems interact. He sees networks as holding the knowledge and know-how necessary to ‘crystallise’ information into the things we use every day. The capacity of a network to hold this sort of knowledge and know-how is thus for him directly linked to economic activity. It helps explain how economic growth is variable and differs from place to place. It says that a theory of economics that doesn’t take into account the social complexity of society and its networks is incomplete. This 20 minute address at the RSA is a rapid tour through Cesar’s work. It is expanded in more depth in his book ‘Why information grows’. If you are exploring how social networks relate to economic activity this is well worth a look.
Chaos is a purely mathematical concept; it is an undeniable mathematical fact. We know that theoretical physics is built on mathematics, and that all theoretical physicists are applied mathematicians. The first question that I want to examine, then, is: why is it that, among all the practitioners of science, applied science, engineering disciplines, and human sciences, physicists were practically the last ones to be interested in chaos and to use it in their work?
A complexity-oriented perspective is both an academic and intuitive way of looking at the world, a way of studying patterns of behavior and relationships over time. In research and in practice, complex systems approaches have been used to advance knowledge across a range of disciplines from computer science and engineering to archeology and public administration.