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The Complexity Matters blog features the Thursday Complexity Post as well as other complexity inspired news items.

 

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Environments and Mindsets for Complex Change

Posted By Prucia Buscell, 14 hours ago

Balinese farmers have grown rice in paddies irrigated through an intricate network of canals and aqueducts built around hundreds of tiered water temples for more than a thousand years. Priests in the temples and hundreds of grower collectives known as subaks evolved a well orchestrated collaboration to control pests and make sure water was fairly distributed.

In the 1980s, international development organizations introduced chemical fertilizers and re-engineered growing and harvest patterns with the goal of growing more rice. The water temples and subaks were disregarded. Several years into the program, rice yield had plunged and rats and other pests were proliferating. In his extraordinary book Aid on the Edge of Chaos, Ben Ramalingam tells the story of the subaks in Bali and the dynamic self-organization that had allowed growers to cooperate in management of complex issues related to soil quality, pest control, crop yields, and rainfall and to make continual adjustments as local conditions required. The subaks also performed social, legal and spiritual functions.


Researchers from the Santa Fe Institute found that the farmers cooperated on the basis of their own dominant needs. Those upstream were most worried about pests, and those down stream worried about water shortages. Ramalingam explains the researchers used ecological simulation models to show how humans were reshaping the ecosystem, and how cooperative behavior emerged over time. With the water temples as the nodes, he writes, the subak networks were "a particular form of social organization shaped by a process of cooperative agents co-evolving in a changing environment." By 2012, he says, the government of Bali had arranged that the subaks would be preserved in perpetuity as a vital part of the country's unique cultural, social and economic farming system.

Ramalingam believes an understanding of complexity science and complex adaptive systems can help cultivate new mindsets that will enable policy makers and program designers to increase effectiveness as they try to improve health and economic conditions, reverse adverse impacts of climate change, and build peace in war ravaged areas. He provides lucid examples and commentary on the work of many complexity scholars, including John Holland, Stuart Kauffman, Jane Jacobs, Herbert Simon, Joshua Epstein, a scholar of agent based modeling, and Warren Weaver, a mathematician who wrote an influential paper on "Science and Complexity" in 1948. He quotes Friedrich Hayek's 1974 Nobel acceptance speech in which the economist said we can't acquire enough knowledge to master complex events, so we need to use the knowledge we can get to "cultivate a growth by providing the appropriate environment" for growth the way a gardener does for plants.

Ramalingam cites several innovative development and humanitarian efforts that draw upon the concepts of complexity: they include dealing with epidemic outbreaks in Asia, water sharing in Bhutan, subsistence farming and urban change in East Africa, disaster responses in Southern Africa, and industrial production globally. This informative book is filled with memorable stories, well-turned phrases, extensive research, and a wide-ranging exploration of the insights of complexity science. While the focus is aid, the usefulness extends to just about any field.

In a section on positive deviance, Ramalingam describes the work of Monique Sternin and the late Jerry Sternin in reducing childhood malnutrition in Vietnam. The Sternins pioneered the use of positive deviance (PD) in social and behavioral change. They helped parents living in impoverished villages discover that some of their neighbors had healthier kids despite having no additional resources. The parents of the healthier children were gathering shrimps, crabs and greens that were free but generally considered unsuitable for children, and they had different mealtime practices. Ramalingam also notes the successful use of PD in reducing MRSA rates and in improving business operations. Plexus Institute led an initiative in which several hospitals using PD processes dramatically reduced the incidence of healthcare associated infections. In an interview with Ramalingam, Monique Sternin noted Plexus Institute's role in developing the science and theory behind PD and scaling up the work.

image from wikipedia

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  culture  ecology  environment  organizations 

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Technological Paradox: We Do More Knowing Less

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, October 23, 2014

The ill fated Air France Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009 killing 228 people, remains one of the most perplexing and significant modern airline disasters, according researchers. In a Vanity Fair article, William Langewiesche explores the paradox that technological advances that have greatly improved airline safety over the last 40 years have also increased the likelihood that pilots won't know how to handle a crisis if one arises.

A series of small errors, the story says, "turned a state of the art cockpit into a death trap." As the plane approached a line of thunderstorms at 35,000 feet over the Atlantic in the middle of the night, the captain was taking a nap-which was an habitual practice and allowed by rules-and two co-pilots, each thinking he was in temporary command-were at the controls. Langewiesche reports that a French investigator observed after the fact that "Sometimes two is less than one." Because of an accumulation of ice crystals outside the plane, the pilots temporarily lost valid air speed data, alarms sounded and control panels showed a slight dip in altitude and an impossibly low speed, though the airspeed itself was unaffected. Auto pilot disengaged. The flying co-pilot yanked the hand control causing a steep climb, then tried unsuccessfully to level the plane. Stall alarms sounded. The two copilots, panicked and communicating poorly, used controls in ways that counteracted each other. Fear and confusion reigned. The captain awoke but couldn't reverse the fatal descent into the ocean. Some passengers may have been aware of turbulence, but there was no screaming or panic, according to records recovered.

Langewiesche concludes that because we've designed auto-piloted planes that virtually anyone could fly, the average knowledge base that pilots need has declined. "It seems we are locked into a spiral in which poor human performance begets automation, which worsens human performance, which begets increasing automation," he writes, adding the pattern is common to our time, but is acute in aviation. The next disaster will involve different planes, airlines, circumstances, and culture, he suggests, but will almost certainly "involve automation and we will be perplexed by it."

We all rely on technological equipment and gadgets, and we know how to use them for our own purposes without knowing much about how they work. Are we, as a result, inclined to skim over the surface of knowledge our survival might occasionally require? Can we become simultaneously more and less sophisticated? In his New York Times piece "Curses, Fooled Again!" Peter Funt writes that "the omnipresence of technology has reached a point where people will accept almost anything." His topics wouldn't scare a frequent flier, but his observations are pertinent to our relationship with technology. His father, Allen Funt, started "Candid Camera" on TV 60 years ago. When Peter Funt produced new "Candid Camera" shows this summer, he worried that today's tech savvy audiences wouldn't fall for some of the ridiculous pranks he planned. But they did. He and colleagues showed salon customers an "untanning machine" they said would suck dark pigment off skin in seconds. He told shoppers they would be charged a $10 in-store-fee for not buying online, and they bought his line. He went to a dentist's office, gave patients iPads, then told them they'd have to conduct their own exams online. Several were ready to inject their own Novocain before he confessed the joke. Posing as a sanitation worker, he told residents in Queens, N.Y., they had to separate household trash into eight color coded bins including one for "chicken waste." He gave New Yorkers petitions to recall state officials, and most supported the recall, even though all the names on the petitions were phony. In California an actress posing as a candidate got dozens of campaign signatures without identifying any positions, a party, or her last name.

Funt says while his father used to distract people, now they do it themselves fiddling with cell phones and other devices, comfortable with their exceptional electronic capabilities, and giving less than full focus to what's going on around them. So people are still friendly and good-naturedly willing to be sucked into "Candid Camera" stunts, he observes, but they're also more vulnerable to personal mishaps and genuine scams.

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From the Front Lines: Kissing the Banana Trunk

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, October 16, 2014
In parts of Sierra Leone and much of West Africa, people have traditionally kept the bodies of loved ones in their homes for several days after death as mourners wash, caress, dress them and pray over them. Because the corpses of Ebola victims are highly contagious, the tradition has been a key vector in spread of the disease. Burial teams from the Red Cross and other organizations have been attacked trying to interfere with care of the dead. Some families have even hidden corpses to make sure proper rituals can be performed.

In a Psychology Today post, Steven Hayes, PhD, Foundation Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Nevada, writes that behavioral science is as important as medical science in discovering alternative rituals that honor both culture and safety.

Four years ago Beate Ebert, a German psychologist and others formed Commit and Act, a nonprofit in Sierra Leone devoted to bringing psychotherapy to people traumatized by a decade of civil war and violence. Hannah Bockarie, a social worker fluent in Krio, the local language, led workshops, evaluated through a partnering agreement with the University of Glasgow, to train indigenous counselors and health care workers. When Ebola hit, the organization was in a unique position to help. Hayes explains that Commit and Act, already known in the community, was able to educate people about Ebola and the practices needed to halt its spread. Bockarie also led local groups through therapeutic sessions that helped them come up with alternative burial customs that honored their values while allowing health care workers to safely dispose of bodies.

"A beautiful example one group came up with was substituting the corpse with a banana trunk," Hayes writes. "The body of the infected and now diseased person is burned. Relatives keep a banana trunk at home, and perform all the customary rituals on it, including kissing the banana trunk before burial. In the end the banana trunk is buried."

Hayes says he is awed and inspired by "a pathway forward" that could not have come from the outside, and that could not have been produced by military intervention nor dictated by foreign aid workers.

He explains that the evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson's Evolution Institute combined with Commit and Act to use Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) along with principles from the late economist Elinor Olstrom, who won a Nobel Prize in 2009 for works showing the skill of indigenous people in protecting common resources.

People who face a problem are the best poised to find ways to solve it. That's a key insight of Adaptive Positive Deviance. After the disclosure of the Ebola infection of a second nurse who worked at the Dallas hospital where a man died of the disease, health officials have aimed to promote caution without feeding panic. The second nurse flew on a commercial airline before she had symptoms and the CDC has asked all 132 passengers on her flight to self-monitor and call a CDC hotline. Some politicians propose a ban on travel to the U.S. from Western African countries. In Texas, a community college announced it was rejecting students from any country with confirmed cases of Ebola.

Officials don't know exactly how the two Texas nurses were infected, though multiple news reports have suggested infection control protocols in place at the hospital were insufficient for Ebola. National Nurses United, a nurses' union, said nurses at the hospital complained of confusion, frequently changing policies and protocols, inadequate protection from contamination and spotty training. Indeed the CDC has now recommended extra levels of protection for healthcare workers caring for Ebola patients, as well as detailed guidelines for the potentially hazardous process of removing contaminated protective gear. CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden has said the most important protection is for a site manager to oversee workers as they put on each piece of personal protective gear, and as they remove and properly dispose of each one. One hopes front line workers will be engaged in finding the best ways to adhere to new protocols.

When Plexus Institute led a multi-year initiative to stop MRSA infections, the protocols in use at the time differed from what is being recommended now for Ebola. But MRSA infection rates dropped dramatically when front line healthcare workers collaborated to developed methods that would achieve the most consistent adherence to the known protocols. The late Jasper Palmer, a patient transport worker at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, devised a way to remove protective gear safely while also reducing the volume of contaminated trash. It became known as The Palmer Method. Watch here.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  culture  healthcare  MRSA 

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Pageantry of Opera Technologically Enriched

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, October 09, 2014

Imagine not being told to turn off your cell phone at the opera. Think of audience interactions with special apps providing bursts of synchronized color on the screens of hand held devices. And imagine special balcony seating where technologically inclined opera buffs can live-tweet their experience.

Youngmoo Kim is an engineer and music scholar who believes technological innovation and artistic innovation are naturally linked and he is finding new ways to bring opera into the twenty-first century.

Kim has taken a sabbatical from his post as director of Drexel University's ExCITe Center to collaborate with Opera Philadelphia in exploring how emerging technology can be woven into all phases of operatic production. As he explained to Maiken Scott at Newsworks.org, "Music and technology have always been a part of my life. I just couldn't decide which one I loved more, so I've continued to do both." Kim double majored in engineering and music and also has a degree in vocal performance practice. The ExCITe team developed LiveNote, an award-winning app for hand held devices that guides opera goers through the musical, artistic and historical elements of what's happening in some Opera Philadelphia performances.

People habitually carry so much tech around with them, Kim observed, that it's "a little bit anachronistic" to keep asking that devices be turned off. When Opera Philadelphia presented a free outdoor performance of "Barber of Seville" projected onto massive screens at Independence Mall, the audience of 6,000 got a new technological treat. Kim and his team designed a web app that changed the color of every audience member's smart phone screen on cue and in unison.

Kim notes operas over the centuries advanced innovations such as pyrotechnics, trap doors, and imaginative lighting effects, so technology, opera and audience interaction are a natural fit. Before conventional darkened theaters existed, operatic audiences were part of the pageantry. Kim thinks traditional nineteenth century staging can make an opera seem remote today. We read "Hamlet" and "Macbeth" because some human conditions are timeless, he said, and he wants to find ways to recreate that timeless emotional connection between opera and modern audiences. He believes technology will enrich engagement.

At Opera Philadelphia's performance of "Ainadamar," the balcony had a social media section for bloggers and Twitter enthusiasts.

Earlier this year Opera Philadelphia and The Franklin Institute participated in a global experiment as a live performance of the robot opera "Death and the Powers" was simulcast from The Dallas Opera to more than ten locations in Europe and the U.S. The opera, by American composer and inventor Tod Machover of the MIT Media Lab, tells the story of Simon Powers, a dying billionaire who can't bear losing his family. He decides to upload his emotions, thoughts and personality into "the system," from whence those elements of him become absorbed into household objects that interact with loved ones after his death. Audiences at the simulcasts received secondary audio, video and multimedia through a specially developed app downloaded to their handheld devices. Audiences could experience the opera from the viewpoint of "the system," or a robot, and in addition had the opportunity to influence visual aspects of the performance. Read a review here, a discussion here and learn about the technology here.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  innovation  music 

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Tragedy Inspires Choices for Change

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, October 02, 2014

During his service in the U.S. Marines, Jake Harriman saw war and conflict in Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East. A horrifying experience in Iraq changed his view of the world and the course of his own life.

He was a Special Operations platoon commander waiting for supplies on a highway to Baghdad in 2003 when Americans fired warning shots at an approaching car they feared might be full of explosives with a driver on a suicide mission. An Iraqi man leapt from the car and ran toward the Americans, waving his arms frantically. An Iraqi military vehicle suddenly roared to the scene, sprayed his vehicle with bullets, and sped away. The man, accompanied by Harriman, ran back to the car to find his wife and two children fatally shot. The Americans didn't know it at the time, but the Iraqi was trying to escape the effort of Saddam Hussein, then still in power, to coerce poor farmers to sabotage coalition forces in exchange for food.

Describing those events to The Christian Science Monitor, Harriman said,

"Something awoke inside of me-an anger that burned and grew. That day I vowed to devote my life to giving people choices and hope where none previously existed."

Five years later he founded Nuru International, an organization dedicated to ending extreme poverty. To prepare for this task, Harriman applied and got into Stanford University's graduate school of business, where he studied economics, computer modeling, and how to "design for extreme affordability" to get goods and services to the poorest of the poor. The World Bank defines poverty as living on $1.25 a day. Harriman looked deeper. Incorporating ideas of economists Mahbub ul Haq and Amartya Sen, Nuru views extreme poverty as lacking choices necessary to attain basic human rights. That's more than avoiding starvation. That means addressing health, education and seeking conditions that foster resilience in the face of catastrophe.

Stanford Professor James Patell, who taught Harriman, told The Monitor Nuru differs from many anti-poverty efforts in the developing world in that its goal is sustainable projects that will be operated by local communities, and in its commitment to bringing its model into war-torn areas. Harriman explains in his blog that the work began in Kenya because he and colleagues wanted to build and test their prototype in a relatively stable country before trying to introduce it into a chaotic failed state or conflict zone. "We are attempting to build a high impact integrated development model that is completely self-contained-that is it can scale on its own-funded by capital produced in-country and led by nationals equipped to innovate and effectively manage large scale projects."

Harriman said that Nuru seeks local community participants who are true "servant leaders" who work to distribute power rather than consolidate it. Nuru is a Kiswahili word that means light. Harriman was recently honored as a veteran entrepreneur in the White House Champions for Change program.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  leadership 

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Architectural Designs for Food of the Future

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, September 25, 2014

Vertical farms are blossoming in several big cities, including Chicago, Kyoto and Singapore, with plants growing in artificial light in specially reconfigured buildings. The Brooklyn-based design firm Aprilli has expanded the idea with a proposal for a giant tree-shaped skyscraper the architects believe will maximize food production and improve local environment through water and air filtration and renewable energy output.

The Urban Skyfarm, winner of an A'Design Award, is described in a FastCompanyExist story by Adele Peters. Architects Steve Lee and See Yoon Park told Peters they envision the giant agricultural skyscraper in the heart of downtown Seoul, South Korea, a densely populated city with air pollution and other environmental problems. There's little space for on the ground farming there, and fresh fruits and vegetables at local markets are in demand but very expensive.

Urban Skyfarm by Aprilli Design Studio

The design mimics the shape of an enormous tree, with leaf-like open air decks built of strong but light weight materials that provide as much as 24 acres for growing fruit trees and plants like tomatoes. The more enclosed lower and inner portions of the structure have space for plants growing in a more controlled environment. The roots, trunk, branches and leaves have different characteristics to suit different farming conditions. The trunk houses a hydroponic farm for greens, and wind turbines and solar panels at the top provide energy to keep the whole mini ecosystem in operation. The solar panels generate energy for night time lighting and heat where needed for plant growth.

Another idea for agriculture in places where farms won't fit comes from JAPA, a design firm in Barcelona now called Forward Thinking Architecture. Architects there propose a system of looping towers that could float in harbors and provide new space for year round crops. In another FastCompany article by Peters, JAPA architect Javier Ponce explains that a network of towers called floating responsive architecture (FRA) is designed for Singapore-or any other densely populated city near water where food is expensively imported from long distances. Throughout the towers, which would surround the city, networks of sensors would monitor crops and communicate with networks in the city creating a data management system that would keep track of food supplies and purchases. Economists say as much as 30 percent of food is wasted, and Ponce says this system would aim for zero waste.

Kyoto Group - proposed network of towers around Singapore 

While creative architectural vertical design may help supply nutritious food to urban centers in the future, many creative projects are already producing food in urban areas. One example is the work of entrepreneurs in Chicago who bought an abandoned factory building and transformed it into a multi-story indoor farm that produces everything from fish to salad greens to beer. Another example is Urban Farming Guys, a nonprofit based in Kansas City, dedicated to creating sustainable urban communities, starting with local food and water security, alternative energy and economic resilience. 

Tags:  buscell  community  complexity matters  ecology 

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The Best Story

Posted By Susan Doherty, Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, September 24, 2014

In 2013, Plexus Institute received a $2.1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a three year project in California’s Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) to discover, develop and promote methods that help K-12 educators continually improve so that their students achieve better outcomes. On September 17, 2014, Plexus Institute President, Jeff Cohn, joined a Healthcare PlexusCall to discuss Leading Change in a Complex World.

In the following audio clips Jeff describes one of the best stories to come out of the project so far and provides some background on the project and the model Plexus Institute is deploying in LBUSD. A transcript follows each clip.

The Best Story

Jeff: The best story that has come out of the work so far involves a music teacher. He is literally a department of one for the entire school so he has no peers from a subject matter standpoint to collaborate with. This team gave him an opportunity to interact that he was lacking so he loved that. The team landed on focusing on a particular aspect of this new common core curriculum that I don’t want to spend our time on but it’s a big focus of trying to help "transform public school education.” And one of the domains pertains to students use of academic vocabulary. Words that help their teachers and parents and peers recognize that they actually know what they’re’ talking about and have come to their conclusions in a thoughtful and meaningful way. This music teacher felt that this wasn’t particularly relevant to him, but the rest of the project and the opportunity to collaborate was so enticing that he would stay a part of the team as his teammates figured out ways to help their students learn how to use these vocabulary words productively.

Jeff: Then we’re moving into April. His big looming task is helping the band and orchestra prepare for the Spring concert and he’s still trying to figure out a way to integrate this academic vocabulary, push himself outside of his comfort zone, and he lands on an idea helped by some ideas that he had heard his peers on the improvement team come up with. So, one night he gives as an assignment listening to a recording of a recent rehearsal for the band and he also sends the kids home with a copy of his conductor’s score and asks them to write a short critique of what they hear. He also gives them a list of 10 academic vocabulary words and they’re assigned to use at least one of them in their critique. So the next day he got these extremely thoughtful perspectives from the kids on what they heard where they did find ways to integrate these words. And, maybe to his surprise, but also gratification, they incorporated their critique into how they did their remaining practices together and ultimately led to by far the best Spring concert that he’s ever been a part of. I think this, for all, was a great example of the sort of bottom-up emergent kind of learning that this sort of environment can foster.


The Project

Joelle: I know that Plexus has an on-going grant project in the field of education. Who is involved with that, Jeff, and what are you learning?

Jeff: This has been a really exciting project to be a part of. Through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation we’ve been working initially in two middle schools in inner city Long Beach, California. I know I had this vision of Long Beach as this vibrant coastal community, which I guess in some neighborhoods it is, but in the two schools where we’re working it’s a very underserved group of kids. 95% of the kids on subsidized meal plans and over half English second language. The goal of the project is to help teachers learn or re-learn how to continually improve. There’s data that was not collected by the Gates folks but which they’ve held up to the schools and to us that shows that most teachers after the first few years of their career plateau in terms of their effectiveness and plateau at a level that produces student outcomes less than what we would hope.

Jeff: So, how can, instead of the usual approaches in education of external experts coming in and telling schools what they should be doing differently, how might they be able to discover the improvement practices that exist within their own schools but which are hiding in plain sight of which they’re not aware. We’ve been working with teams of volunteer teachers that have been meeting before and after school with regularity. These are a diverse group teachers who initially kind of stayed isolated from each other, did not communicate across subject matter and/or grade barriers, but over the course of the first couple of months as they met and as we used Liberating Structures to design the time in which they were interacting and starting to engage in this challenge we noticed the pattern of interacting changing. Now you hear things like a math teacher asking an english teacher and a phys-ed teacher for help on a certain issue that is a challenge to him.

 

The Model

Joelle: What model are you using to shape this work?

Jeff: The [Bill & Melinda] Gates Foundation had come to us asking us for a proposal based on our previous Positive Deviance work. As we described our approach to Positive Deviance in a complex organizational setting they said, we hear you talking about PD, but we hear your talking about leadership, which we think is important in schools, and Liberating Structures, which we don’t know what they are but you seem to think they’re important, and something about networks and something about complexity, so it sounds to us like Positive Deviance plus plus. And, we wound up thoughtfully hearing what they were describing us saying and saying, yeah, actually our model of doing Positive Deviance work does include all those domains. This image that’s on the screenshare of the complexity lens and adaptive positive deviance at the center, that’s what we’re calling the whole Adaptive Positive Deviance, which is different than and greater than the sum of those individual components of a focus on leadership and Liberating Structures use and the complexity lens.

Tags:  cohn  education  music 

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We're Smarter with People Whose World Views Differ

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, September 18, 2014

Researchers say we try harder, make better decisions and achieve more when we work in groups that have racial, ethnic and gender diversity.

A Scientific American story by Katherine Phillips describes research showing that scientists, businesses, banks, juries and groups collaborating to solve problems do a better job when people from diverse viewpoints and life experiences come together. People who differ from each other bring differing information, perspectives and opinions to the task at hand. They may also bring tension and discomfort, Phillips writes, and that may be part of the benefit.

Phillips, a professor and senior vice dean at Columbia Business School, Margaret Neale, of Stanford University, and Gregory Northcraft, of the University of Illinois, studied the impact of racial diversity on small decision making groups. Business students at Illinois were divided into groups of three and given a murder mystery to solve. All participants shared a common set of facts, but each person was also given an important clue that only he or she knew. To solve the crime, the groups had to share all the information they collectively knew. Groups with white and non-white members substantially outperformed the all white groups. Being with similar people makes us think we all hold the same data and perspective, which stops us from processing and fully sharing information, Phillips explains.

In a study of jury decision making, Samuel Sommers of Tufts University found that members of racially diverse juries exchanged a wider range of information during deliberations. He has also found racial diversity contributes to greater complexity in thinking.

Other research shows we are more diligent and more thoughtful when we hear views from people who differ from us. Anthony Lising Antonio, a Stanford Graduate School of Education professor, and colleagues conducted a study with 350 students from three universities. Groups of these students were asked to discuss child labor practices or the death penalty for 15 minutes. Researchers wrote dissenting opinions and had both black and white students deliver them to their groups. When a black student presented the dissenting opinion to a white group, it was perceived as more novel and provoked broader thinking than when a white student delivered the same dissent to a white group.

People also try harder if they're in ideologically diverse groups. Phillips, Denise Lewin Loyd, of the University of Illinois and colleagues asked 186 people who identified as Republican or Democrat to read a murder mystery and decide who was guilty. They were told to write a persuasive essay designed to convince a partner who disagreed. Half were told to make the case to a member of their own party, and half were told to make the case to a member of the opposing party. Both Republicans and Democrats were better prepared for their discussions when their partners were from the other party.

Other studies showed that gender diversity benefitted big businesses. At companies that prioritized diversity, research found, those with women in the top ranks saw greater financial gains.

Phillips story did not specifically address economic diversity, which has long been an issue in education, college admissions and housing. Low income students are underrepresented at elite universities, where incentive to enroll them is weak. Available public housing has dwindled over the last 25 years. Typing "resistance to affordable housing" into Google brings 1,030,000 results. An eighth grade teacher in a wealthy district recalled a fear expressed in a class discussion of affordable housing: "One of the kids said 'these people making $50,000, $60,000 a year are going to come in here and rob and mug.'"

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  diversity 

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Big Data and Workplace Design Surprises

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, September 11, 2014
Updated: Thursday, September 18, 2014

Business scholars believe work performance is influenced by our workspaces and that design can enhance or inhibit human interaction. Researchers are now confirming that's true, and even further, they're finding that certain kinds of design encourage specific kinds of results. They also suggest that productivity may be more a function of groups than of individuals, and teamwork too can be fostered by design.

According to a new report published in Harvard Business Review, face-to-face encounters and chance encounters with others are vital for improvement of workers in a knowledge economy. Authors Ben Waber, Jennifer Magnolfi, and Greg Lindsay conducted experiments in which employees in hospitals and pharmaceutical, finance and software companies voluntarily wore isometric badges that captured social interactions, conversation, movement, posture and physical location. They write that face-to-face interactions are "by far the most important activity in an office," and that unplanned encounters among people inside and outside an organization improve performance.

Lindsay, who is working on a book he calls Engineering Serendipity, told Fast Company's Lydia Dishman that employees wearing the devices were monitored for six to eight weeks and data was randomized to protect individual identities. Content of conversations was not recorded. Earlier research found that physical distance negatively affected communication even among digitally connected people. Interestingly, the Fast Company story says, studies by Waber found that engineers who shared physical space were 20 percent more likely to communicate digitally. When working on projects, they emailed four times as often and finished 32 percent faster than engineers working on the project in different places.

Waber, Magnolfi and Lindsay cite a 2012 HBR article by Alex "Sandy" Pentland who did similar research tracing movements and interactions of employees wearing badges. Pentland identified three key elements of successful business communication: exploration (interacting with people from diverse groups) engagement (interacting with people in your own group) and energy (interacting with more people overall.)

Waber an colleagues in their HBR story cite examples of spaces designed for specifically desired results. For example, engagement tends to produce more productivity. So if a business wants more productivity, walled off work stations and spaces for small-group collaboration, could be a successful design and the group's break area could be a crucial space for chance collisions among group members.

The Norwegian telecommunications company Telenor designed open, public spaces with "hot seating"-no assigned desks-and spaces that could be easily reconfigured for different uses. Its executives wanted change and innovation, so they designed the kinds of open spaces that foster exploration and unplanned encounters. A design that fostered engagement might have been detrimental for a goal of innovation.

Pharmaceutical company executives wanted to increase sales, but weren't sure what behaviors would help. Deployed with badges, they found sales increased when salespersons interacted with people on other teams-that is, when they increased exploration. To encourage inter departmental mingling, the company got rid of several small coffee stations that served half a dozen people. They created bigger coffee stations, that served 120 people each, and replaced small cafeterias with a large one. Sales rose 20 percent.

The authors caution that what works for one company might not work for another and some results will be unintended. A furniture company, for example, needed both exploration among some sales people and more engagement among specific groups who needed improved communication. Fewer desks and unassigned seats increased overall interactions, but energy levels and communications declined. The authors say changes didn't really create movement, they just reshuffled stationery workers who didn't leave their unassigned seats once they sat in them.

The authors also suggest focus on individual productivity in performance reviews tends to divert attention from the interactions that help group performance. For instance, they write, if an employee improves group performance by sharing some successful strategy, the group gain can more than compensate for productivity the individual may have lost by taking time to share.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  design 

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Disruptive Innovation: A Complexity View - Part 1

Posted By Tom Bigda-Peyton, Friday, September 05, 2014
A recent PlexusCall featured the recent controversy between Dr. Jill LePore and Clay Christensen on the topic of disruptive innovation. Three panelists shared their experience with, and perspective on, Christensen's theory: Peter Jones, David Hurst, and Dr. John Kenagy.

Dr. Kenagy said that successful organizations are designed to keep doing what they are good at doing. This prevents them from seeing, or fostering, innovations that may be disruptive (game-changing). In healthcare this is important because existing organizations, especially those that are well-known and established, may miss or suppress a "game changing" innovation that could provide a breakthrough on Kenagy's area of focus, generating "more care at lower cost."* In order to support disruptive innovations in healthcare, we need to create "safe places" in which to experiment toward better and even disruptive solutions to healthcare's problems. Kenagy went on to elaborate on his methods for creating this kind of "learning line," or "safe to fail" lab in healthcare organizations.

However, healthcare also seems to be a special case of disruptive innovation. As Kenagy and other speakers noted, the notion of "disruptive" innovation suggests the advent of a new product or service that disrupts the status quo. But what is the "product" of healthcare? Kenagy posits that we have one product in healthcare: the health of the patient in front of us. This is a complex challenge, one that suggests a different set of variables than those confronted by Apple or Google.

David Hurst and Peter Jones noted additional dimensions of the healthcare challenge which differentiate it from other industries. Jones suggested that the popularity of the "disruptive" idea may lead us down the wrong path, especially when it comes to healthcare. Do we want medical device startups competing for funding on the idea that they have a disruptive innovation, when a better solution may be that a consolation of companies all have parts of an overall solution that would be better than any of them can produce on their own? The current funding model may suboptimize in terms of overall problem-solving and advancing the health and well-being of individuals and the wider society. For these and other reasons, Kenagy asserted that "adaptive" innovation may be a more appropriate term than "disruptive" innovation for healthcare.

How does a complexity view help us develop an optimal US healthcare system? Let’s assume that healthcare is a complex adaptive system. How do we represent our theory of the system itself? What are the metaphors of change that can help us navigate the journey of disruptive innovation in healthcare? The panelists agreed that organic metaphors, such as the butterfly effect or the self-organizing capacity of flocks of birds, work better than mechanistic metaphors or system dynamics diagrams. If we want to mimic nature, the panelists agreed, we need to promote conditions for trial-and-error experimentation, such that the actors in the system can use a trial-and-error pathway toward innovations that may become "disruptive."

Are there current efforts in healthcare to mimic nature’s process of self-organization and evolution? What can we say about the conditions which foster this kind of process in human organizations? Viewing the situation through a complexity lens may help.

When we think about nature as a metaphor for self-organizing and evolution, we need to think about the conditions in human organizations that promote self-organization. We would like to highlight three:

• Optimal uncertainty;

• Optimal agreement among stakeholders; and

• Common language and common framework for complex problem-solving.

Following the Stacey Matrix (below), "optimal uncertainty” refers to a middle zone between chaos and simple problem solving. There is uncertainty but not so much as to paralyze the organization; there is familiarity but not so much as to make the problem seem routine. Optimal agreement is a similar concept, in which we find a diversity of views but also enough commonality to bind, or hold, the group together. Finally, we believe the capacity for self-organization is fostered by a common language and framework for complex problem-solving, such as the ability to differentiate between simple, complicated, and complex problems and the capacity to match appropriate methods to each.



How does all of this apply to healthcare? We will take up this question in our next post.

 

Tom Bidga-Peyton is a Senior Consultant with Plexus Institute. Tom's work focuses on widening and accelerating the pace of improvement in individual, organizational, and large-system change initiatives.

Tags:  disruptive  innovation 

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