Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Complexity and thinking

Jurgen Appelo has an interesting slideshare presentation on complexity and system thinking. As with all Appelo's stuff, it's humorously illustrated to offset the weighty topic.

Of course, I'm not the first to comment. You might want to click here.

At first glance, you may not want to wade through 191 slides (JA is notoriously  non-lean on slide count because he uses a lot of white space, but I like that because it's easier to catch the main point). But, what this presentation is about is what a dozen or some system thinkers think about systems and complexity.

In other words, there's about 160 pages of quotations, one per page. JA has grouped them nicely in several categories.

Here's a couple of points that caught my eye:
People in organizations do not normally follow the steps proposed by system practitioners .... Instead, the organizational reality is that engage in daily conversation, gossip, political negotiation, power plays, acts of resistance, and personal agendas; in short, local interaction.
Ralph Stacey, Complexity and Organizational Reality

The phenomenon Stacey describes is what Alstair Cockburn calls communication by osmosis. It's much richer than what you get virtually on the end of a phone circuit.  And, it explains a lot why it's hard to really get business benefits promised by business re-engineering, especially ERP projects.

A team is a complex adaptive system (CAS), because it consistes of parts (people) that form a system (team), and the team shows complex behavior as it keeps adapting to a changing environment

I have a little heart burn when people put the label "CAS" on inanimate systems because the definition of CAS is really the definition of the behavior of biological systems do adapt and mutuate in ways not possible with inanimate systems. But I'm ok with Apello's use with teams because the parts are biological who do adapt to circumstances.

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