Complexity: going deeper (TIHR lunchtime talk)


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At a recent ‘lunchtime talk’ session, , Eliat Aram, the Institute’s CEO attempted a second ‘bite’ into Complexity theory, this time introducing Staff and Guests to the ‘complex responsive processes of relating’ perspective developed by Prof. Stacey, Prof. Shaw and Prof. Griffin and its implications to intervention design and organisational development work.

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  • Transformative teleology: means that the movement towards the future is under perpetual construction and it is determined by the movement itself, therefore, cannot be predetermined. the movement towards the future is not in order to unfold the already enfolded, it is not designed and it is not in order to reach any specific final state. It is in order to creatively express itself, that is, its identity. This process is paradoxical since the movement expresses continuity and transformation of individual and collective identity at the same time. The transformation is novelty that has never been there before. This is a paradoxical, or dialectical view of causality in the tradition of the work of Hegel (1807/1977) and Mead (1934) where causality has to do with movement into the future with the contradictory features of the known-unknown (Griffin, 1998; Stacey et al, 2000)
  • My work has been to understand the process of education and learning using this perspective, suggesting that education is a paradoxical process in which students and teachers are forming the process of learning at the same time as being formed by it, where identities emerge as both continuity and potential transformation at the same time. In my work I draw particular attention to processes of shame and panic, but this is for a third complexity chapter, rather than for today. Today I suggest we use the time left to experiment and explore thinking about our own work in terms of complexity.
  • Complexity: going deeper (TIHR lunchtime talk)

    1. 1. Recap:Organisms can be understood as complexadaptive systems made up of many interactingagents. For example, a living cell is made up ofhuge numbers of interacting proteins, lipids, andnucleic acids and the human brain is a network ofbillions of interconnected neurones.Organisations too can be thought of as complexadaptive systems consisting of many interactingindividuals with their ideas and beliefs (Waldrop,1992; Stacey, 1996 a&b; Zimmerman, 1992;Kaufmann, 1995).
    2. 2. Complex adaptive systems are nonlinear andself organising with emergent futures. Thismeans that their evolution cannot be tracedback to simple explanations of cause andeffect. ‘The genes in a developing embryoorganise themselves in one way to make aliver cell, and in another way to make amuscle cell’ (Waldrop, 1992:12).
    3. 3. Self organisation means:that agents interact locally and that it is in thislocal interaction that global patterns emergewithout any global blueprint, design orprogramme. The systems evolve in an intrinsicallyunpredictable manner into an undeterminedfuture. They are interdependent, with local actionat one scale having unpredictable consequencesat all scales through complex relationships overtime. They co-create their future.
    4. 4. Interactions, taking the form of both positiveand negative feedback, can, broadlyspeaking, display three dynamics: stable tothe point of rigidity; unstable to the point ofdisintegration; and, paradoxically, patternsthat are both stable and unstablesimultaneously.
    5. 5. The paradoxical dynamic has become known as the“edge of chaos”, a dynamic where order and disorderco-exist.(Waldrop, 1992: 12).
    6. 6. When the agents in a complex adaptivesystem differ from each other, the systemdisplays the capacity to transform itself. It isonly at a critical level of diversity that asystem can produce novelty (Allen, 1998 a &b).
    7. 7. Such systems are adaptive in that they do not simplyrespond to events, but evolve or learn. Each agent is guidedby its own schema, or rules of behaviour, and also byschema shared with other agents. Interpreted in theorganisation literature, single-loop learning occurs whenschema remain unchanged, while double-loop learninginvolves changes in current schema, so producing morefundamental changes of kind (Argyris & Schon, 1978).Through double-loop learning species evolve for bettersurvival in a changing environment - and so do corporationsand industries (Waldrop, 1992: 11). Competition andconflict emerge and the evolution of the system is driven byagents who are trying to exploit each other, but the gamecan go on only if neither side succeeds completely or forlong in that exploitation (Stacey, 1996b: 340).
    8. 8. From Complex Adaptive Systems toComplex Responsive Processes of Relating• A process view of organisations• Informed by transformative teleology• Complexity sciences as a source domain for analogies with organisations• The analogies are translated in organisational terms using the work of Mead and Elias
    9. 9. The basic question explored about organisations is:what are the sources of both the stability andthe change, of both the continuity and thenovelty, of both the decay and the generation,of both the identity and the difference?
    10. 10. Understanding organisations from acomplex responsive process of relating perspective:“intrinsic properties of connection, interactionand relationship between people would bethe cause of emergent coherence and thatemergent coherence would be unpredictable”(p. 8)
    11. 11. And further:• “people would still be understood to be choosing and acting intentionally, but this would apply to particular, local response to others in ordinary, everyday organisational life. It would be the interaction itself that causes the emergent pattern, and plans and procedures would feature in these interactions without determining their pattern” (p. 8)
    12. 12. And in terms of Identity:• “in this paradigm, an organisation comes to be what it is because of the intrinsic capacity of human beings, individually and collectively, to express their identities and thereby their differences. Identity and difference emerge through self organisation; that is, relationships of a cooperative and competitive kind” (p. 8).
    13. 13. Complex Responsive Processes of Relating• Transformative teleology• Paradoxical• No split between the individual and the social• Mead’s I-me dialectic and the conversation of gestures• The ‘living present’ (Hegel)
    14. 14. Self consciousness: The I- Me dialectic• Me: the identity involved in the silent conversation, what we experience as inside our heads, the attitude of one’s group to one’s self• I: the individual’s response to Me, the action one takes in response to the perceived community view of oneself
    15. 15. The process of ‘Organising’:• The ongoing joint action of communication in the living present as• Continual interaction between humans who are all forming intentions, choosing and acting in relation to one another as they go about their daily life, but no one can step outside an interaction to arrange it or design it.• There is no objectifiable ‘it’. There is only the responsive process of relating itself
    16. 16. • The organisation is not understood as a tool for humans to design and control, but as experience in the living present• A complex responsive process of relating perspective focuses attention on communication in all its forms and seeks to understand how people accomplish the joint action of organisation• Imagine then organisations as webs of communication or as Patricia Shaw later suggests patterns of conversation
    17. 17. • Take this perspective as a gesture, what meaning might arise out of those insights and this language?• How might we understand our own work using this thinking?