This was a driving force in the
nineteenth century and pervaded even the social sciences.
On the macro-scale, according to Newtonian physics one
could measure the cause and effect of, for example,
the degree of heat and its affect on metal. These were
statistical, linear relationships. Another driving force
of 18th century mechanistic science was that one could
freeze a subject in time and space in order to study
Something has been happening
to change our assumptions!
Since then we have been moving
away from deterministic thinking towards the relativity
of Einstein. Quantum physics (slide
6), the study of the smallest particles, has taken
the lead as our conceptual framework. Growing out
of this micro world view, the Heisenberg uncertainty
principle said that the product of statistical uncertainties
of complementary variables (he is talking about momentum
and position) could never be measured at the same
time. So, if we could locate a subject in space, we
couldnt tell when it would be there. If we understood
what time it would arrive, because we knew its speed
of travel, we didnt always know where it would
arrive. In terms of current events, even though the
world was surprised, many people understood that anger
was building in fundamentalist parts of the Muslim
world and that would result in some kind of eruption.
Bin Laden actually wrote about it. Those people understood
the movement of feelings (momentum), but not the physical
place where they would erupt (position). Einstein,
Heisenberg, Lorenz, Bohm and many others changed how
we understand the world.
Lets look at Lorenz contribution.
In the 1960´s, Edward Lorenz (MIT), was
studying the weather (slide
7). Using linear based mathematical laws;
he created a model of the weather on his (by
todays standards) small computer. The
simulation always obeyed the rules but the weather
never repeated itself. But measurements could
never be perfect. Actually, an assumption of
Newtonian science was that given an approximate
knowledge of a systems initial conditions
and understanding of natural law, one can calculate
the approximate behavior of the system.
In a re-running of his simulation one day, Lorenz
typed in the numbers of the initial conditions,
with which he had been working, which ended
.506. When he came back to the computer with
his coffee, he saw a radically different result
from what earlier runs had shown using the exact
numbers. In actuality, the computer had stored
the last part of the number as .506127 (slide
8). Out of that accident, chaos theory was
formed. It is often called the butterfly effect.
9) That is; small actions can have large
What was also learned about
complexity was that things went from order to chaos
to order again. (slide
slide 11). Just like when a new computer system
is installed, there is order, even if the system doesnt
solve all the problems at hand. Then comes a period
of chaos when the new system is installed and the
bugs are worked out. Finally, when everyone has learned
how to use its new capabilities there is order in
How do we experience complexity?
Even while scientists were studying
complexity, we were experiencing it, often unconsciously.
In order to illustrate this, lets look at how our
population has grown since the middle ages. (slide
slide 19) The increase in population is just one
reason for our feeling pressed. Globalization has
opened the door to more new contacts and customers.
Bureaucracy and technique has given us countless new
things to think about. There is more to learn and
there are more people to learn from every day. Our
economic system is based on growth, so naturally the
number of products grows, client groups diversify,
alliances expand and decentralization takes over.
All of these things and more increase the complexity
of our lives.
How are we handling this complexity?
Another part of this new paradigm
is taking over as a way to understand the universe
and a way to handle the complexity around us. It is
Systems Theory. What is a system? (Food cycle picture.)
Systems can be natural or man-made. Other natural
systems can be a grove of trees, a colony of bacteria,
communities of animals or societies of people. They
can interact with their neighbors and adapt to change.
They can be a connected, organized set of things or
parts, such as in a car. Systems can be bodies moving
about one another in space guided by laws, like gravity.
They can be a set of organs of parts in an animal
body. They can be a religion, a form of government,
a philosophical system or a system of theories, a
doctrine or beliefs.
Our brains are a system!
We have learned a lot about how the brain works,
and more is coming every day. For example we
can encourage the right and left brain to work
together more effectively by doing physical
movements which cross over the midline of the
body. That activates the left brain lobe to
take care of the right side body movements and
the right lobe to take care of the left sides
We know that systems have a
series of archetypal behaviors. They have colorful
names like Fixes that Backfire, Limits
to growth, Shifting the Burden.
It takes some detective work and a deal of study to
use systems thinking to solve problems in our organizations.
That body of knowledge is growing as university courses
and consultants refine the knowledge for easier integration.
There are computer software programs on the market
that can model the systems found in your workplace.
Another way of handling complexity
when it comes to making decisions about the future
is to use scenarios. These are narratives of possible
futures based on current qualitative information,
behavior patterns, and actions in the present. Scenarios
are able to incorporate a variety of variables in
a way that are easily absorbed by the listener. Scenarios
come in groups of three to five. That is because there
is never any one conceptual framework happening at
once, but there are several happening at the same
time. Scenario technique captures this actuality.
There are still hunters and gatherers on earth at
the same time the origins of the universe are being
studied by scholars. Those are extremes but most companies
have age differences, gender differences and cultural
differences not to mention differences between marketing
and production, purchasing and personnel. Every company
is warehouse of complex number of conceptual frameworks.
Children are learning more about
handling complexity in school. They are working more
often with a team of teachers, they have theme days
where a subject is looked at from many angles, and
story telling is being introduced as a new
technique. They are learning about the Butterfly effect,
about Systems Theory and many new scientific theories.
This will not be simply academic material for them;
it will be a new way of thinking. These children will,
in the next 15 to twenty- years will be working for
There are several techniques
that help us manage complexity and to fight the tendency
to oversimplify and lay blame in the wrong place.
They can help us from being overwhelmed and burnt
out. In summary, we can handle complexity by understanding
systems thinking and using scenario techniques. There
is a third way, and that is why you are here today.
Just like the narratives in scenario thinking, story
telling is an easy way to get started in learning
how to handle complexity.
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