Robert asks for some definitions and examples. I can't speak for Wheatley
and Stacey - partly because they are speaking from chaos theory rather
than complexity. But here are some definitions and examples from
complexity theory a la my interpretation of SFI research.
> > From what I have read of Chaos theory in the business context (
> > Margaret Wheatley, Ralph Stacey etc.) I get the idea that we can
> > only cope with limited instability, and that organisations can only
> > function on the creative, unstable edge for a limited period of time
> > before choosing a new stable state.
Instability, in relation to intelligent entities, refers to perception.
That is, the world is all and always changing. Where we cannot connect
the present to the past (sufficiently) we might call it unbounded
instability or chaos. Where we can discern (sufficient) patterns we call
it limited instability. Where we see little or no change that is not an
obvious progression we call it stability.
We can only cope with what we can understand. Instability beyond
understanding cannot be coped with. John Warfield, who used to contribute
to this list, developed Interactive Managementto reduce complexity in
specific problems for this reason.
We understand by making patterns. So, if we can make patterns, we can
cope with that level of instability. If not, we can't cope.
A "new stable state" is one which appears to change only in ways that we
expect based on our understanding of previous/current states. It is a
state of low information and high predictability. It is the state of
maximum production for minimum energy expended. It is also a state of
minimum learning and adaptation which is good for a stable world - if one
is ever found.
The "creative edge" is that state which passes beyond a threshold point
where existing organisation or systems of control are unable to handle the
energy, the information, the new input and/or output that is created.
This is a "creative edge" in the sense that it demands the most
intelligence and a resolution cannot be engineered but will either be
designed by creating patterns of attractors (rather than by specific
control) or will resolve itself. If it resolves itself, the term I'd use
would be "area of self organisation" rather than "creative edge".
The "creative edge" can happen by accident - say as a result of downsizing
and loss of control, by a huge new order, by a merger, by a new product or
technique entering the market - or it can happen by design - say as a
result of a management decision to empower, pursue breakthrough goals,
What makes it a creative edge is the energy/information released beyond
the control capacities of the existing systems. This also makes it a
potentially destructive edge - and there is no way to guarantee that it
will be creative and not destructive. There are some ways (such as
designed attractors) to heavily influence which way it will go.
The idea of "a new stable state" is a fiction in human affairs (and
probably all others). In reference to corporate life, it refers to a
state where the nature of a complex adaptive systems - let alone an
intelligent one - is not understood and those who think they are or want
to be "in control" desire to rein in the natural tendencies of an
The term only makes sense in a world view where stability is the main
condition and instability an occasional inconvenience. It represents
a conservative position which is quite nicely captured in Robert's
statement about children "child psychology - researchers found that
when adventure playgrounds were made safer this resulted in the
children's play becoming more dangerous - there seemd to be a level
of danger (anxiety) the children were comfortable with"
The term, in human and organisational affairs has to do with comfort and
point of view - not with the nature of the world as we find it.
Any change effort - one of the best examples because it is recent and more
or less complete in many cases is TQM initiatives - which attempts to get
from state A (an identified negative condition) to state B (a specified
positive condition) is operating under a stable state theory where an end
state is the goal. The idea of a change initiative suggests that there is
an end state.
In a world of intellligence or complex adaptive systems, we can influence
the particular states of the universe of our interest but we cannot make
any stable (in any absolute sense) nor guarantee the nature and effect of
our influence. We can understand a particular view of the universe and
operate in ways that are suggested by that - and see what happens and
continue the process until we have terminal failure.
This view of the universe has life, variety, suprise, emergence, and
engagement as high states and observable outcomes. It is a match for the
ideas of C. Alexander that only those designs which have centres (which
are spaces) of sufficient symmetry and sufficient assymetry to demand the
full engagement of our natural intelligence are sufficient to attract us
and give us life. It is also a match for the ideas of complexity and
Michael McMaster : Michael@kbddean.demon.co.uk
book cafe site : http://www.vision-nest.com/BTBookCafe
Intelligence is the underlying organisational principle
of the universe. Heraclitus
Michael McMaster <Michael@kbddean.demon.co.uk>
Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <firstname.lastname@example.org> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>