There are ten things to remember about complex adaptive systems (which include all social and ecological systems):
- It is impossible to know ‘enough’ about such systems to prescribe blanket ‘solutions’ to ‘problems’ in such systems: There are too many variables. A one size answer never fits all in such systems.
- The wisdom of crowds is essential to even a basic understanding of such systems: The more people involved in understanding, thinking about, and making decisions about such systems, the more likely those decisions are to be effective….
- Such systems are unpredictable: Because there are so many variables, many of them unknown, it is folly to even attempt to predict what will happen, even in the short term….
- Many of the variables in such systems are uncontrollable…
- In such systems, prevention is difficult but better than a cure after the fact…Prevention requires imagination, and unfortunately we live in a world (especially true in large organizations, where imagination is actively discouraged) of terrible imaginative poverty….
- In such systems there are no ‘best practices’ or ‘best policies’: Every situation in complex adaptive systems is unique. Trust the people closest to that situation to know what to do, don’t try to impose some practice that worked well in some completely different context (though telling a story about that practice might help those closest to the situation decide whether it could be adapted to their situation)….
- In such systems, great models can spread but they usually can’t be scaled… If you don’t understand why this almost always fails, re-read Small is Beautiful.
- There is a tendency for those working in such systems to presume ‘learned helplessness’ of customers and employees: …And failure to engage customers and employees in co-producing the product is a tragic waste of great opportunity. The key is knowing how to engage them: Not through passive questionnaires or surveys, but through conversations, stories, and presenting the ‘problem’ to them so they can help you appreciate it better and then address it….
- In such systems, genuine decentralization is almost always a good idea: That means pushing out real authority along with responsibility….
- In such systems, networks outperform hierarchies: This is a corollary of the other nine tenets of complex adaptive systems. Information, ideas and working models spread faster and more effectively peer-to-peer than up and down hierarchies.
Networks. Adaptive Systems.
Listen. Learn network theory. Go read Valdis Krebs white papers, and understand how power works in networks, and how smart communities work. Then grab Linked. And wait, there is more. On top of that add some understanding of incentives and acknowledgment. Now you have basic tools for creating healthy flowing adaptive systems. It isn’t enough. It is a great start.
Let us weave these networks to deal with the complexity around us, moving, flowing, growing. Let us thrive together.
Listen. Trust. Flourish.