Saturday, 27 December 2008

Complexity? or Sensemaking!

Complexity seems to be a hype today. Or better, it has become a hype-phrase over the last five years. Even modest magazines today publish about "complex problems" and almost any problem arising in the political arena here in Holland is soon characterized as a complex problem by the politicians. At times it seems that "being complex" is a good excuse for not solving the problem.

And indeed complexity is a strange animal in this world. Even guru's like Dave Snowden need 7 notions to characterize it. It started with the 3C's of Complexity in July 2008, featuring Constraint, Coherence and Connectivity. This good start was augmented to 5C's on October 21 adding Context and Coalescence. But is was clearly not enough as already on October 26 the counter went to 7C's adding Culture and ..... Complexity. Yes indeed Complexity as Dave also changed the title and refers to his magnificent 7 as The Seven 7C's of Sensemaking.

So why am I repeating Dave's list here? Well, because Dave is right, it is not about complexity that we should bother, it is about Sensemaking. Making sense of a situation where old Newtonian Cause-Effect rules don't apply. Situations where the apple doesn't fall down when released. That is why Dave's first C of Constraint is so important. Yes one can make any situation ordered by applying more constraints. It might take the Military but almost any civil "problem" can be pushed into the ordered regime (well Bush learned (or should I say experienced) what the almost is about in Irak). But still contraints matter, lift the contraints and observe the system to move back into chaos (mission failed) or stabilize into a pattern of complex/complicated behavior any Democratic society evolves around (mission completed, get out!).

Ofcourse I could go on here explaining the other six C's here but that is what links are for, and Dave has done very well. Here I just want to touch upon Complexity a bit. For me something (a system, a problem, a challenge) is complex when in a dynamic situation there are so many relations (connections) between the parts (fragments?) that it is hopeless to attempt in-depth analysis. Like Dave's favorite story on children playing in a schoolyard. One cannot design a plan to let all 400 of them play nicely. What one can do is observe patterns (are they playing nicely, look bored or are they fighting?) and next trow in a probe (a ball, a rope, start a new game) to get the bored playing and disrupt the bad patterns in the hope better patterns of playing will emerge.

I really hope we will see more of that kind of intervention from our Governments next year. One size (measures) fits nobody so to say, creative people (Bankers or other proffesionals) will always find their way around the static rules. I really hope for some raise of applying dynamic interventions in our societies. Am I an optimist? Well, its Xmas, it is allowed I guess for the next week or so.

Have a good start of the year.

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