your place to the edge.
Foster the "right" degree of information flow, diversity
and difference, connections inside and outside the organization, power
differential and anxiety, instead of controlling information, forcing
agreement, dealing separately with contentious groups, working systematically
down all the layers of the hierarchy in sequence and seeking comfort.
studies of complex adaptive systems suggest that creative self-organization occurs when
there is just enough information flow, diversity, connectivity, power differential and
anxiety among the agents. Too much of any of these can lead to chaotic system behavior;
too little and the system remains stuck in a pattern of behavior.
Again, we can look to biological
sciences for a dramatic illustration of this principle. Dr. Ary Goldberger is a cardiac
specialist at Harvard Medical School who has done much research in the role of complexity
in physiologic systems such as the beat-to-beat record of a healthy heart. It shows an
irregular, wrinkly appearance not a smooth, regular tracing. Furthermore, when this
tracing is magnified, there is even more wrinkly detail. This complex pattern of irregular
fluctuations is a fractal. Surprisingly, if you were to view an equally detailed
heart-rate tracing of a patient before cardiac arrest, you would probably not see more
chaotic activity, as you might expect, but rather virtual consistency and regularity.
Thus, predictable and regular activity can lead to a heart attack; unpredictability and
fractal (chaotic-like) variability are associated with health and stability. (Note that
this pattern can also be observed in other biological systems: in sleep, chaotic patterns
have been shown to produce restful sleep and extreme regularity may indicate a coma; and
in muscles, chaos indicates healthy functioning and stability indicates seizure or
Of course, the trick in a human
CAS lies in gauging the right amount of information flow, diversity,
connectivity, power differential and anxiety among the agents. Since the predominant
metaphors of organizational life are those of a machine and military operation, most
organizations today have too little information flow and diversity, and too much power
differential. The degree of connectivity and anxiety can go either way. This is a general
observation that could of course be different in any specific context. If you are in a
CAS, you will have your own mental model about such things, as will the other agents in
Since the detailed behavior of a
CAS is fundamentally unpredictable, there is no way to arrive analytically at an answer
for what amount of information flow, diversity, connections inside and outside the
organization, power differential and anxiety among the agents is proper.
You can have more- or
less-correct intuitions, and some sense of general direction, but thats inherently
the best you can do. Youll just have to try tuning up or down the various factors
and reflect on what happens.
Reflection is, therefore, a key skill for anyone in a CAS. Good leaders in a CAS lead not by telling people what to do, but by being open to experimentation, followed by thoughtful and honest reflection on what happens.
All Components of Edgeware
Principles Copyright © 2001, Curt