Dave Snowden: Embrace Complexity, Scale Agility

Fantastic presentation of theoretical underpinnings of a lot of common sense. Dave talks substantially about Cynefin. For more of this, I suggest a much better summary than I’d ever be able to do at this recent The Morning Paper issue.

Some notes I made about complex systems:

  • Everything is about flow; is not about static assessments.
  • Ordered systems are very constrained: one cannot escape the constraints
    • only works in highly ritualized environments
    • a ritual entry into a highly role-based process means you will follow rules you’d never follow as an individual person
    • ritual entry changes the cognitive patterns in the brain
    • order has value, but one has to realize the context; applying it where it shouldn’t be applied is dangerous
    • the obsession with order, making things seem superficially ordered, means the informal network need to work beneath the surface to make apparently efficient systems effective
    • overfocus on efficiency and processes produces perverse results
  • Chaotic systems are unconstrained: everything is operated independently to everything else
    • it’s a transitionary state: whenever there is a crisis people immediately start imposing constraints
    • used deliberately can be powerful: by removing all constraints, innovations can appear, but it’s hard to keep order/constraints from appearing
  • Complex adaptive systems: constraints modify behaviour of participants, but behaviours modify constraints; behaviour and constraints co-evolve
    • everything is in flow and one cannot go back
    • complexity is about inherent and continuous uncertainty; it can be managed as flow, it can’t be managed as static system
    • complex systems are not causal: some things just are; there’s not linear material causality; defined results cannot be predicted; you manage the evolutionary potential of the present moment in time and adjust as you go.
    • flexible, negotiable boundaries are valuable, as rigid boundaries have the habit of becoming brittle and break catastrophically
    • if you don’t change language you don’t change how people think