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1 Manufacturing Dept, Bldg 50, RmF9b, School of Applied Sciences An Introduction to Complex Adaptive System Theory & Key Concepts of Complexity ScienceDr Carol WebbManufacturing Dept, Bldg 50, RmF9b,School of Applied Sciences
2 Why Complexity Science? Problem with legacy of scientific managementTraces of scientific management in much management theory and discourseDominant metaphor: mechanical, reductionist, linearOK for target driven activitiesBut, something else needed for:What emerges between peopleNon-linearityUncertainty & unpredictability
3 Why Complexity Science? “Complexity refers to the condition of the universe which is integrated and yet too rich and varied for us to understand in simple, mechanistic or linear ways.We can understand many parts of the universe in these ways but the larger and more intricately related phenomena can only be understood by principles and patterns – not in detail.Complexity deals with the nature of emergence, innovation, learning and adaptation”[Lissack, M. (1997). “Mind your Metaphors: Lessons from Complexity Science” in Long Range Planning, Vol. 30/2 pp294]
4 Complexity Science: changing the way we think “Complexity theory deals with systems which show complex structures in time or space, often hiding simple deterministic rules. Complexity theory research has allowed for new insights into many phenomena and for the development of a new language. The use of complexity theory metaphors can change the way managers think about the problems they face. Instead of competing in a game or a war, they are trying to find their way on an ever changing, ever turbulent landscape”[Lissack, M. (1997). “Mind your Metaphors: Lessons from Complexity Science” in Long Range Planning, Vol. 30/2 pp294]“Weick’s concept of ‘sensemaking’ can be summarized as an organisation’s need to interpret and make sense of the environment around it if it is to survive”[K. E. Weick and K. H. Roberts, Collective Mind in Organisations: Heedful Interrelating on Decks, “Administrative Science Quarterly, September (1993), And: K. E. Weick, Sensemaking in Organisations, Sage Press, Thousand Oaks, CA (1995).]
5 Complexity Science: Changing what we do "Complexity science offers a way of going beyond the limits of reductionism, because it understands that much of the world is not machine-like and comprehensible through a cataloguing of its parts; but consists instead mostly of organic and holistic systems that are difficult to comprehend by traditional scientific analysis.[…] it remains very much a science - that is, a body of observation and analysis of natural phenomena - rather than being deep theory"(Lewin, R., 1999)However, let us consider some of the theory generated by this body of observation
6 Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS)? Ever wondered how to describe…The flocking of birds?The swarming of bees?The building of ant colonies and termite hills?How a human being might be seen as a network of 100,000 genes interacting with each other?How an an ecosystem could be thought of as a network of vast numbers of species relating to each other?How a brain could be considered as a system of ten billion neurones interacting with each other?How an organisation might be thought of in terms of a network of people relating to each other?
7 Complex Adaptive Systems “A flock of birds might be thought of as a complex adaptive system. It consists of many agents, perhaps thousands, who might be following simple rules to do with adapting to the behaviour of neighbours so as to fly in formation without crashing into each other.A human being might be seen as a network of 100,000 genes interacting with each other. An ecology could be thought of as a network of vast numbers of species relating to each other. A brain could be considered as a system of ten billion neurones interacting with each other.In much the same way, an organisation might be thought of in terms of a network of people relating to each other. Complexity science seeks to identify common features of the dynamics of such systems or networks in general”(Stacey 2003a:238).
9 Complex Adaptive Systems A Complex Adaptive System (CAS) consists of a large number of agents, each of which behaves according to some set of rules;These rules require the agents to adjust their behaviour to that of other agents;In other words, agents interact with, and adapt to, each other;Out of these interactions, novelty, spontaneity and creativity emerge – sometimes in unpredictable waysComplex Adaptive Systems (CAS)evolves according to 3 principles:order is emergent (not hierarchical)system’s history is irreversiblesystem’s future is unpredictablebuilding blocks of CAS are agents, or system agentsagents are participants in self-organising process - e.g. individuals, teams, factions, networks, or formal organisational entities.Diversity and interaction between agents determine patterns that emerge through self-organisation.
10 Think of a flock of birds as a complex adaptive system Complexity science seeks to:identify common features of the dynamics of such systems or networks in general;The emergent outcome in the case of the self-organisation of the birds is the order present in the formation of the flock.Think of a flock of birds as a complex adaptive system:It consists of many agents, perhaps thousandsThe agents follow simple rulesThe rules are about adapting to the behaviour of neighbourhoodsThis allows them to fly in formation without crashing into each other.
11 Innovation as an emergent outcome of system-wide self-organisation – how? Key questions:How do such complex non-linear systems with their vast numbers of interacting agents function to produce orderly patterns of behaviour (or innovation)?How do such living systems evolve to produce new orderly patterns of behaviour (or innovation)?The traditional scientific approach:To look for general laws directly determining the order and governing the evolution observed.Expectation would be to find an overall blueprint at the level of the whole system according to which it would behave.
12 CAS – Methodological considerations No search for an overall blueprint for the whole system;model agent interaction;each agent behaving according to their own principles of local interaction;No individual agent, or group, determines the patterns of behaviour;“bottom-up emergence”The approach taken by complexity scientists is fundamentally different.They do not look for an overall blueprint for the whole system at all.Instead, they model agent interactionWith each agent behaving according to their own principles of local interaction.No individual agent, or group, determines the patterns of behaviour that the system displays or how those patterns evolve and neither does anything outside the network.AKA: bottom-up emergenceIt’s business going on without a business planIt’s people without a dictator (c.f. Zapatistas – Mexico)It’s invention by serendipity (think of the fortunate yet accidental discovery of Penicillin)It’s things happening in spite of everything elseIt’s messy and often unintentionalThis is the principle of self-organisation:agents interact locally according to their own principles, or 'intentions',in absence of an overall blueprint for the system they formCAS - ok for modelling swarming bees, flocking birds, or digital simulations.Since it is not possible to experiment with living systems in real-life situations, complexity scientists use computers to simulate the behaviour of complex adaptive systems.Some scientists argue that computer simulations are a legitimate new form of experiment but others hold that they show nothing about nature, only about computer programmesCAS - acknowledges novelty and spontaneity, uncertainty and chaos
13 Ants as an analogy to convey the meaning & potential of self-organisation to solve business problems “To understand the power of self-organisation, consider how certain species of ants are able to find the shortest path to a food source merely by laying and following chemical trails. Individual ants emit a chemical substance – a pheromone – which then attracts other ants. In a simple case, two ants leave the nest at the same time and take different paths to a food source, marking their trails with pheromone.The ant that took the shorter path will return first, and this trail will now be marked with twice as much pheromone (from the nest to the food and back) as the path taken by the second ant, which has yet to return.Their nest mates will be attracted to the shorter path because of its higher concentration of pheromone. As more and more ants take that route, they too lay pheromone, further amplifying the attractiveness of the shorter trail.The colony’s efficient behaviour emerges from the collective activity of individuals following two very basic rules: lay pheromone and follow the trails of others” (Bonabeau and Meyer 2001:108).
14 Computer programmes to study CAS Genetic algorithmsdeveloped by John Holland of the Santa Fe Institute (Holland, 1992);The ‘Boids’ simulationdeveloped by Reynolds (1987) to simulate the flocking behaviour of birds;The ‘Vants’ simulationdeveloped by Langton (1996) to simulate the trail-laying behaviour of ants;The Tierra simulationdeveloped by Ray (1992) using the analogy of biological evolution to evolve computer programmes.
15 Conversation in complexity science method Analogies from the complexity sciences provide insight into stabilising features of communicative interaction.Narrative and propositional themes that Stacey describes as organising themselves into conversation can take various forms (Stacey 2003a:362):fantasies; myths; rituals; ideology; culture; gossip; rumour; discourses and speech genres; dialogues; discussions; debates; and, presentations.These are responsible for organising the experience of relating in different ways, by e.g.:selecting what is to be attended to; shaping how what is attended to is to be described; selecting who might describe it; accounting by one to another for their actions; articulating purpose in the form of themes expressing intentions; (Stacey 2003a: 363)Importance of acknowledging feelings, reflection-in-action, and abstract thinking (Stacey, 2001)
17 Self-OrganisationNo single person absolutely in command or control of the situationNo-one really planning and managing the situation – even though they might think they areObvious hierarchy in complex systems are not immediately noticeableAgents continuously organising themselves without a ‘leader’Agents interacting with each other in simple waysComplex systems structure themselves out of themselvesInteracting elements act according to simple rulesOrder is created out of chaos
18 Emergence You can’t easily predict what is going to happen next The way people are interacting appears to be randomYou see new things emerging from interactionsIf you were to look on a wide scale there might be some patterns emergingPatterns emerge from interactionsPatterns inform the behaviour of a systemNew qualities arise through particular types of networksHigher complexity is produced out of many simple componentsEach individual component outgrows usual capabilities – e.g. people outgrow their competencies.
20 The ‘edge of chaos’ Not a fixed state – a transitional phase! Lots of creative activity going onLots of transitions and changes from one state to anotherLiving networks reside in a critical phase between chaos and order where networks find creativity and stability in an optimal balanceLiving systems are most creative, with the greatest potential for discovering order that expresses an emergent property for the whole system, when they are living near the ‘edge of chaos’Living systems naturally undergo transitions from current order to chaos, from which emerges new order.
22 DiversityIf differences are not flattened out or levelled change happens easilyInteraction and change appears flexibleThe ‘system’ seems strong in these casesNetworks combine the most different variants, characters, functionsHigh diversity creates more possibilities to react flexibly, on environmental changesThe greater the variety within the system the stronger it isAmbiguity and paradox aboundContradiction is used to create new possibilities to co-evolve with their environment.
24 History & TimeHistory and time irreversible – you can’t go back in time and change thingsSome specific decisions brought you to where you ended – some you were aware of, others you were not (what might have been???)In a social context, the series of decisions which an individual makes from a number of alternatives partly determine the subsequent path of the individualBefore a decision is made there are a number of alternatives – after, it becomes part of history and influences the subsequent options open to the individualUnique histories mean every decision the organisation makes is context specific (therefore questions the idea of ‘best practice’ and ‘one size fits all’ treatments)Also, think about path dependency – e.g. technological path dependency – systems are locked into using dominant tools and processes because of historical factorsThink about our present day road systems – these often date back to Roman times!
26 UnpredictabilityDetail and order of outcomes not determined by an elite groupNot really possible to forecast or control behaviour in detailsNo actions isolatedInterlinked groups or networks with lots of people acting and reacting among each otherThings happening in one place create consequences elsewhere and vice versaDue to complicated interrelations, it’s very difficult to foresee or to control behaviour of the nodes of the network, when reacting to impulses (from outside or inside the network).Emergent order is holistic – a consequence of interactions between elements of the systemAll systems exist within their own environment and they are also part of that environmentAs their environment changes they need to ensure best fitWhen they change, they change their environment too
28 Pattern RecognitionYou can’t always see direct and proportional links of cause and effectPeople and groups don’t really link in random waysSmall numbers of people are loosely coupled to othersSmall changes are amplified - You can see big effects coming from small changesYou see patterns of activity being repeated over and over againThe ways agents in a system connect or relate to each other is critical to the survival of the systemFrom these connections patterns are formed and feedback disseminatedRelationships between agents are more important than agents themselvesSelf-organised, living networks always show similar patterns.Feedback is the systems way of staying constantly tuned to its environment and landscape and enables the system to re-adjust its behaviour.In far from equilibrium conditions change is non-linear, so small changes can be amplified, and produce exponential changeNovel, emergent order arises through cycles of iteration in which a pattern of activity, defined by rules or regularities, is repeated over and over again, giving rise in coherent order.
29 6 Properties of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) Self-Organisation & EmergenceDiversityThe Edge of ChaosHistory & TimeUnpredictabilityPattern Recognition… there are more (!) – these are just some basic principlesDon’t forget interconnectivity and the importance of networks!Networks are the assumed context of CAS(also see references in the bibliography for how CAS theory is applied to different contexts)
30 Linking theory and method Systems practice as a way of managing in situations of complexitySystems thinking shows there is no right answer when dealing with complexityWe avoid terms like ‘manage’ and ‘managed’ with deterministic overtones in favour of ‘managing’ which is an active process associated with daily living;Need to see the parts in the context of the wholeEngaging with complexity entails:Engaging in situations of complexityUsing systems or complexity thinking to learnLearning our way towards purposeful action that is situation improving
31 Conversation in complexity science method Analogies from the complexity sciences provide insight into stabilising features of communicative interaction.Narrative and propositional themes that Stacey describes as organising themselves into conversation can take various forms (Stacey 2003a:362):fantasies; myths; rituals; ideology; culture; gossip; rumour; discourses and speech genres; dialogues; discussions; debates; and, presentations.These are responsible for organising the experience of relating in different ways, by e.g.:selecting what is to be attended to; shaping how what is attended to is to be described; selecting who might describe it; accounting by one to another for their actions; articulating purpose in the form of themes expressing intentions; and, justifying actions in the form of themes that express ideology (Stacey 2003a: 363).Importance of acknowledging feelings, reflection-in-action, and abstract thinking (Stacey, 2001)
32 What Enables Self-Organising Behaviour in Businesses? Self-organising behaviour will naturally occur without addressing what causes it;Behaviour is self-organising when people (agents) are free to network with others and pursue their objectivesEven if this means crossing organisational boundaries created by formal structures;Self-organisation as the ‘natural default behaviour’;Organisation studies recognise barriers to such freedom in bureaucratic structure;Understand self-organising behaviour in adaptation to change by applying concepts of organisation theory and organisation behaviourColeman, H. J. (1999)
33 What Enables Self-Organising Behaviour in Businesses? Diversity: seen as important in context of interconnected people translating ideas into innovation;Agents co-evolve with the environment of fitness landscapes through a process of self-organisation intended for both survival and growth from innovation;Impetus for creativity comes from shadow system of learning communities with enough diversity to provoke learning but not enough to overwhelm legitimate system and cause anarchy;Degree of connectivity between agents in a system: necessary variety in behaviour depends on strength and number of tiesFew and strong ties producing stable behaviour – too little for effective learningMany and weak ties producing unstable behaviour – too much variety for effective learningColeman, H. J. (1999)
34 What Enables Self-Organising Behaviour in Businesses? To operate at the edge of chaos, agents and systems balance canalisation and redundancy;Need for creative tension and experimentationSpace for creativity in an organisationTension between over-control (in ‘legitimate’ system) and chaos (in ‘shadow’ system)Confident employees – risk-takers and experimentersSome organisational stability required and some order necessary for employees to recognise noveltyOrganisations learn when there is new information combined with knowledge and applied to new opportunities provided by changes in the external environmentPeople in learning communities seize such opportunities to be innovativeIf structure is flexible enough the firm can adapt and form new project teams or even new business units, or found new companiesColeman, H. J. (1999), Eden and Ackermann, (1998)
35 What Enables Self-Organising Behaviour in Businesses? Organisational open systems assumedOpen to flows of data and information facilitating learning and construction of new knowledge;Goal is to encourage experimentation (planned or naturally occurring);Some failure needs to be tolerated (e.g. Post-It notes developed from the failure of a search for an adhesive substance);Judicious ignoring of local constraints helps avoid being trapped on poor local optima;Entrepreneurial behaviour is spontaneous in response to perceived opportunities to create an organisation;Coleman, H. J. (1999)
36 What Enables Self-Organising Behaviour in Businesses? Organisational theory and organisational behaviourNeed for innovation leads to particular emphasis on knowledge management;Adaptation in turbulent environments necessary;Small teams (or cells) pursue entrepreneurial opportunities and knowledge sharing among themselves (leads to a potent organisation);Operating logic based on flexibility with knowledge sharing in place of hierarchical controls;Stability created for confident risk-taking and experimentation;New knowledge constructed in ‘communities of practice’ (COPs)
37 What Enables Self-Organising Behaviour in Businesses? Organisation DesignOrganisation design/structure can facilitate change by being flexibleDesign org’ for purpose of evolution with the changing environmentDesign for emergence by avoiding rigidities of bureaucratic hierarchyCreate org’ environments not inhibiting evolutionary change and accept discontinuous changeLeadership may be anywhere, and everyone is a champion of changeNo need to bust bureaucracy because there is noneWhen an organisation is operating on the edge of chaos, not even its leaders can know its future directionBecomes relevant to operate in a mode of inquiry, surfacing and questioning assumptionsColeman, H. J. (1999)
38 What Enables Self-Organising Behaviour in Businesses? Loose-tight controlsFreedom of activityRelative autonomy within boundariesManagement confidence and trust in employees to act according to shared valuesTension between empowerment and control reached through accountabilitySatisfying human needs for interaction to obtain other needsComputers and telecommunications increase interconnectedness of people and speed of sharing knowledge and informationEmpowermentStaff taking initiative - Intrinsic motivation in staff to contributeEnabling feelings of meaning in work, autonomy, choice, and having an impact on outcomesReleasing self-motivation of employees to take responsibility by trusting them to think, experiment and improveColeman, H. J. (1999)