December 10, 2011
In our view of the world, we often think that competition creates and secures efficiency. But it may be that high performance is incorrectly attributed to competition and is more a result of diversity, self-organizing communication and non-competitive processes of cooperation. Competitive processes lead to a handicapping of the higher-level system that these processes are part of. This is because competitive selection leads to exclusion: something is left out. Leaving something out means a reduction of diversity. The resulting less diverse system is efficient in the very short term, but always at the expense of longer-term agility and viability.
Our assumption has also been that by understanding the parts of a system in detail, we understand the whole. This is simply not possible! What happens in the interaction between the parts is much more important than the parts. The whole is the emergent pattern of the interaction, not the sum of the parts. The focus of the high performance organization should be on communicative interaction: what is going on?
Enriching interaction and interactive energy
Chaos theory explains how the patterns form. A parameter might be the flow of information in the system. At low rates, meaning no input or more of the same input, the system moves forward displaying a repetitive, stuck behavior. At higher rates and more diversity the pattern changes. At very high rates the system displays a totally random behavior. The pattern is highly unstable. However, there is a level between repetition/stability and randomness/instability. This level where simultaneous coherence and novelty are experienced is called the edge of chaos.
Classical physics took individual entities and their movement (trajectories) as the unit of analysis in the same way we have lately analyzed individuals and firms. Henri Poincaré was the first scientist to find that there are two distinct kinds of energy. The first was the kinetic energy in the movement of the particle itself. The second was the energy arising from the interaction between particles. When this second energy is not there, the system is in a state of non-dynamism. When there is interactive energy, the system is dynamic and capable of novelty and renewal.
Interactive energy may be the single most important factor in business performance.
Every interaction is meaningful
Interaction creates resonance between the particles. Resonance is the result of coupling the frequencies of particles leading to an increase in the amplitude of motion. Resonance makes it impossible to identify individual movement in interactive environments because the individual’s trajectory depends more on the resonance with others than on the kinetic energy contained by the individual itself. We are the result of our interaction.
The lesson is that every interaction of all of the particles is thus potentially meaningful and can lead to the amplification of the slightest variation. Interactive systems with even the smallest variations take on a life of their own. The future form and direction of the system is not visible in the system at any given time. The future is not in the system and it cannot be chosen or planned by anyone.
The conclusions are important for us:
Firstly, novelty always emerges in a radically unpredictable way. The smallest overlooked variable or the tiniest change can escalate by non-linear iterations into a major transformative change in the later life of the system.
Secondly, the patterns of healthy behaviour are not caused by competitive selection or independent choices made by independent agents. Instead, what is happening happens in interaction, not by chance or by choice, but as a result of the competitive/collaborative interaction itself.
The new social technologies have the potential to change the patterns of connectivity as much as the sciences of complexity have changed our perspective and thinking.
Richer, more challenging, more exploratory conversations leave people feeling more alive, more inspired and capable of far more creative action. The focus of the high performance organization should be on communicative interaction creating the continuously developing pattern – a life at the edge of chaos.
Thank you Pekka Himanen and Doug Griffin
October 31, 2011
The approaches of industrial management have given us remarkable material well-being over the last few centuries, but are increasingly being criticized for not being suited to handling the needs of today. Organizations need to excel in innovation. Companies also need to embrace rapid change and uncertainty. Some of the most creative ones have even gone so far as to take a “let’s just do cool things and see what happens” approach, trying to avoid traditional governance systems. Is this yet another sign that management is in crisis?
The industrial theory of management is based on top managers choosing the future of their organization and guiding its development in the right direction. The belief is that managers can make useful forecasts and set goals. Their daily responsibility is to monitor activities to identify gaps between the goals and actual outcomes so that the gaps can be closed. Uncertainty plays a minor role. Managers know what is going on.
Every business is a set of assumptions that are taken as given, thus reducing the perceived uncertainty. The whole plan–execute cycle is a process designed to prove those assumptions correct. But assumptions are never totally right most often not totally wrong, either. Accordingly, it is quite seldom that ideas are turned into a successful business in just the way described in the business plan. Things change.
In conditions of rapid change and uncertainty, there have to be systematic processes indicating progress and new opportunities as they emerge. This is much more important than forecasting or planning. It is about testing the assumptions continuously and signalling which assumptions are helpful and which are not. It is about finding out repeatedly which of the efforts are creating value and which are wasteful. Are we on the right track? Are we progressing? What new possibilities have become visible?
Lean thinking defines value as providing benefit to the customer. Anything else is waste. But what if we really don’t know? Then the most important business process is to find out. We have to learn what creates value for different customers in different situations. “Anything that does not contribute to learning is waste” as Eric Ries puts it. The business challenge for a creative company is to learn fast and cheaply!
Management theory needs to leave behind the industrial, mechanistic model of reality and the belief in linear if-then, causality. The sciences of complexity, non-linear dynamics, uncertainty and creative learning are the foundations of modern, human-centric management.
The task of managers is not the reduction of uncertainty but to develop the capacity to operate creatively within it. Ilya Prigogine wrote in his book “The End of Certainty” that the future is not given, but under perpetual construction:
“Life is about unpredictable novelty where the possible is always richer than the real.”
Thank you Eric Ries, Stu Kauffman and Ralph Stacey
February 27, 2011
Complex systems are, as their name implies, hard to understand. The main difference between the sciences of certainty and the sciences of complexity lies in the different causal frameworks they are built upon.
Up to now, we have seen the world around us as systems that, we thought, could be described and understood by identifying causal links between things: if I choose X, then it will lead to Y. If, on the other hand, I choose A, it will lead to B.
We are accustomed to drawing boxes and lines between the boxes. We try to model the world as predictable processes that we can control.
The mainstream ways of thinking about management are based on the sciences of certainty. The whole system of strategic choice, goal setting and choosing actions to reach the given goals in a controlled way depends on predictability. The problem is that this familiar causal foundation cannot explain the reality we face. Almost daily, we experience the inability of leaders to choose what happens to their organizations – or to their countries.
We live in a complex world. Things may appear orderly over time, but are inherently unpredictable. If a system’s long-term behavior is unpredictable, goals can still be set, but there is no certainty that the actions taken are going to realize them.
Complexity refers to a pattern, a movement in time, that is at the same time predictable and unpredictable, knowable and unknowable. Healthy, ordinary, everyday life is always complex, no matter what the situation is. Human patterns that lose this complexity become repetitive and rapidly inappropriate for dealing with life. Unlike mechanical systems, human systems thrive on variety and diversity. An exact replication of behavior in nature would be disastrous. For example, a failing heart is typically characterized by loss of complexity.
Human interaction cannot be understood as predictive processes but as patterns
A pattern is something that unfolds through the complex interactions between elements in a system. Although there is apparent order, there is never exact repetition if the system is viable. This is why human interaction cannot be understood as processes in the way they were used in manufacturing, but as patterns.
Patterns that are more repetitive are normally called routines or habits. However, those routines do not cause our behavior. Instead routines are emergent patterns. They emerge in what we do. They continue to be sustained only as long as they are present in our everyday interaction.
The American sociologist George Herbert Mead (1863 – 1931) distinguished between two types of objects: physical objects and social objects. While a physical object may be understood in terms of itself, a social object has to be understood as being composed of patterns of interaction.
Mead referred to a market as an example of a social object. The acts of buying and selling define a market. Markets cannot exist without these social activities. When one person offers to buy something, this act involves a range of responses from other people. A person making an offer can only know how to make the offer if she is able to understand the attitude of the other parties to the bargain. The ideas of buying and selling are thus always interconnected. This is why it is called a “social” object.
The routines define the object. The social object can only be found in the conduct of different individuals engaged in the social act. Thus, there is no market that can be understood as an “it”. Mead’s social objects are not things but generalized tendencies to act in similar ways in similar situations.
We find it easy to regard social phenomena as things with an independent existence. We talk about financial markets being “nervous”. We want more people to recognize patterns “to predict what is going to happen”. But patterns can only be found in the experience of interaction itself. They have no existence separate from interaction and we cannot influence the patterns as separate entities.
We can just participate in interaction – in a dull and repetitive way or in a creative and rich way.