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Sharon VanderKaay
The Biology of Business
11 Simple Rules from Complex Adaptive Systems
Concepts from
complexity science
point the way to a
healthier world
for business,
communities and
individuals.
artwork:SusanOttevanger
These concepts
explain
the dynamics of
change in
living systems
that affect business
success in a
post-industrial era.
artwork:SusanOttevanger
A definition
Complex Adaptive Systems
are diverse
living elements
made up of multiple
interconnected agents
that have the capacity to
grow and change.
artwork:SusanOttevanger
200+ years of
industrial progress
have left behind
tangible liabilities
such as toxic
landfill…
Industrial Residue
artwork:SusanOttevanger
…as well as
intangible
liabilities
such as
self-defeating
ways of working.
©iStockphoto.com/Grafissimo©iStockphoto.com/DmitryVasilyev
We’ve become so
disconnected
from the
natural world that
unregimented
business practices
may seem
strange to us.
Lingering
machine age
practices are
barriers to
prosperity...
©iStockphoto.com/©RyanLane
Disconnect
…and these
ways of
working
cause
unnecessary
distress.
©iStockphoto.com/JelaniMemory
Resources are
wasted by
diligently applying
mechanical approaches
that have proven
time after time
to FAIL.
change programs?
strategy implementation?
performance reviews?
misguided mergers?
economic predictions?
©iStockphoto.com/OlaDusegård
Living Systems Mismatch
Why do our changeprograms
produce so little change?
Why is it difficult to
implementour strategic
plan?
Why do effortsto gainbuy-in
frequentlyfail?
Why does the ROI for
mergerstend to be low?
And why do so may
headlines about the
economycontain the word
Living Systems Mismatch
Resources are
wasted by
diligently applying
mechanical approaches
that have proven
time after time
to FAIL.
To resolve this mismatch there’s
one basic “test” question
we need to ask
ourselves daily…
…this question applies whether
we’re aiming to
save the planet or
attempting to change
one person’s opinion.
artwork:SusanOttevanger
The test question is:
artwork:SusanOttevanger
Am I working with or against nature?
purposeand boundaries
attract, work through
open, flexible system
cooperate to create
conditions for abundance
solutions emerge…
expect surprises
tight, uniform control
impose, force feed
closed, rigid system
scarcity mindset
pre-determined…
attempt to predict
AGAINST NATURE WITH NATURE
©iStockphoto.com/©igorterekhov
©iStockphoto.com/
Here are 11
enabling rules
that work
with nature.
artwork:SusanOttevanger
…these 11
enabling rules
emerged from
reflection on
real, everyday
business life with
clients and colleagues
through the lens of
complex adaptive
systems.
Pursue agility and resilience.
(abandon illusions of predictability)
Living systems present too many variables for us
to rely on one assumed future scenario.
“Life in beta”is Bruce Nussbaum’s¹ term for the
notion of continuously sensing, interpreting and
acting on shifting environmental conditions.
1.
artwork:SusanOttevanger
Consciously learn from daily experience.
(rather than rely on formal training)
Step-by-step training prepares people for
repetitive, judgment-free procedures.
But business skills such as sensing, sense-making
and taking appropriate action are improved
through a process of inquiry and reflection on
real, messy human experiences.
2.
Allow solutions to emerge.
(look beyond existing pieces of the puzzle)
Avoid jumping to answers and making
assumptions based on direct cause and effect
relationships.
Instead, re-frame questions to expand the
possibilities, then explore fast, cheap iterations
in a process of experiment/learn/adjust/repeat
until a better solution becomes apparent.
3.
artwork:SusanOttevanger
Pull, don’t push.
(avoid efforts to overcome resistance to ideas)
Strange attractor is a term from chaos theory
describing “points that remain close to the
attractor even if slightly disturbed.”²
Some scientists may wince at applying attractor
to business, but this sticky term reminds us to
engage followers, influencers, and champions
while avoiding contests aimed at control.
4. Strange Attractor
Seek healthy mixtures.
(avoid monocultures like the plague)
Biodiversity is a condition for survival.
Sameness and replication are enemies of
innovation.
Diverse viewpoints lead to better solutions by
challenging assumptions, reframing questions
and avoiding self-limiting either/or choices.
5.
artwork:SusanOttevanger
Establish a purpose and boundaries.
(tight controls do more harm than good)
Industrial era notions of control came about
when people were viewed as extensions of
machines.
Pay attention to what Dan Pink says about
motivation – Mastery! Purpose! Autonomy!
(see Sources, slide #32)
6.
artwork:SusanOttevanger
Appreciate the messy phases.
(innovation does not occur with clinical precision)
The notion of self-organization at the edge of
chaos makes industrial-minded administrators
nervous.
But successful innovation happens when people
give up central planning and see beyond neat,
over-simplified answers, then work through the
disorder to create better solutions.
7.
©SusanOttevanger/susan@seewater.com
Expect non-linear progress.
(there will be ups and downs)
The creative process depends on the learning
that emerges from each trial and error iteration.
Instead of being surprised and daunted by a
naturally bumpy process, it can be recognized
as a progressive journey. This view is not a
matter of positive thinking; it’s derived from
the realities of adaptive systems.
8.
 You may be here.
Cooperate to create abundance.
(pure competition leads to scarcity)
Machine age economics were based on
assumptions of gain or loss, rather than
interdependence.
In natural, self-organizing systems the well-
being of any given organism is dependent
on the success of the larger whole.
9.
©SusanOttevanger/susan@seewater.com
Promote grassroots initiatives.
(see the weaknesses in top-down programs)
In contrast to top-down programs that invite
resistance, small self-organizing experiments
can be contagious, with higher impact.
These outlier (or pilot) projects demonstrate a
better way forward through positive deviance
by mavericks who get things done.
10.
artwork:SusanOttevanger
Work in a place designed for humans.
(in contrast to restrictive, generic office spaces)
Knowledge workers benefit from physical
environments that recognize the changing
biology of business.
This means creating spaces that inspire big ideas
and facilitate the flow of various activities that
take place in a day (instead of the old question:
open or closed offices?).
11.
1. Pursue agility and resilience.
2. Consciously learn from daily experience.
3. Allow solutions to emerge.
4. Pull, don’t push.
5. Seek healthy mixtures.
6. Rely on vision and boundaries.
7. Appreciate the messy phases.
8. Expect non-linear progress.
9. Cooperate to create abundance.
10. Promote grassroots initiatives.
11. Work in a place designed for humans.
These design thinking
concepts are not new,
yet examples of
mechanical models
and their
negative consequences
are evident in business
all day, every day.
...cannot be directed/controlled
but can be influenced/disturbed.
Henri Lipmanowicz
Plexus Institute
Because change is non-linear, a small change can produce a
large effect. Or a large change may produce no effect at all.
Curt Lindberg
Plexus Institute
Business must abandon
efforts to craft the perfect
plan for the future.
Alex & David Bennet
Organizational Survival in the New World
It’s not a good time for control freaks.
Eric Young quoted in Getting to Maybe
by Westley, Zimmerman & Patton
summary comments
“
”
Mastery.
Purpose.
Autonomy.
Dan Pink
Drive
credits + inspiration
Plexus Institute http://www.plexusinstitute.org/
Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of
Order and Chaos by A. Mitchell Waldrop
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates
Us, by Dan Pink
¹ Bruce Nussbaum
http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/Nussbaum
OnDesign/archives/2009/11/life_in_beta--h.html
² Wikipedia on “Attractors”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attractor
The Fortune Sellers by William A. Sherden
Getting to Maybe by Frances Westley, Brenda
Zimmerman & Michael Quinn Patton
Managing the Unexpected: Assuring High
Performance in an Age of Complexity by Karl E.
Weick & Kathleen M. Sutcliffe
Modern Times, the film
artwork as noted: Susan Ottevanger
susan-ottevanger.com/
SIMPLE COMPLICATED COMPLEX
(baking a cake) (constructing a building) (sustaining a business
or raising a child)
adapted from Getting to Maybe by Westley, Zimmerman & Patton
LINEAR
INSTRUCTIONS
PREDICTABLE
OUTCOME
EXPERTS COORDINATE
MANY SETS of
INSTRUCTIONS to ACHIEVE
a SPECIFIED OUTCOME
INHERENT VARIETY and
UNCERTAINTY in a DYNAMIC
ENVIRONMENT
Requires continuous
INTERPRETING and SENSING;
may lead to SURPRISE
When we’re working with nature…
artwork:SusanOttevanger
Sharon VanderKaay
Twitter: @svkaay
…fresh possibilities for success
can emerge.
artwork:SusanOttevanger

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Biology of Business: Complex Adaptive Systems

  • 1. Sharon VanderKaay The Biology of Business 11 Simple Rules from Complex Adaptive Systems
  • 2. Concepts from complexity science point the way to a healthier world for business, communities and individuals. artwork:SusanOttevanger
  • 3. These concepts explain the dynamics of change in living systems that affect business success in a post-industrial era. artwork:SusanOttevanger
  • 4. A definition Complex Adaptive Systems are diverse living elements made up of multiple interconnected agents that have the capacity to grow and change. artwork:SusanOttevanger
  • 5. 200+ years of industrial progress have left behind tangible liabilities such as toxic landfill… Industrial Residue artwork:SusanOttevanger
  • 6. …as well as intangible liabilities such as self-defeating ways of working. ©iStockphoto.com/Grafissimo©iStockphoto.com/DmitryVasilyev
  • 7. We’ve become so disconnected from the natural world that unregimented business practices may seem strange to us.
  • 8. Lingering machine age practices are barriers to prosperity... ©iStockphoto.com/©RyanLane Disconnect
  • 10. Resources are wasted by diligently applying mechanical approaches that have proven time after time to FAIL. change programs? strategy implementation? performance reviews? misguided mergers? economic predictions? ©iStockphoto.com/OlaDusegård Living Systems Mismatch
  • 11. Why do our changeprograms produce so little change? Why is it difficult to implementour strategic plan? Why do effortsto gainbuy-in frequentlyfail? Why does the ROI for mergerstend to be low? And why do so may headlines about the economycontain the word Living Systems Mismatch Resources are wasted by diligently applying mechanical approaches that have proven time after time to FAIL.
  • 12. To resolve this mismatch there’s one basic “test” question we need to ask ourselves daily…
  • 13. …this question applies whether we’re aiming to save the planet or attempting to change one person’s opinion. artwork:SusanOttevanger
  • 14. The test question is: artwork:SusanOttevanger
  • 15. Am I working with or against nature?
  • 16. purposeand boundaries attract, work through open, flexible system cooperate to create conditions for abundance solutions emerge… expect surprises tight, uniform control impose, force feed closed, rigid system scarcity mindset pre-determined… attempt to predict AGAINST NATURE WITH NATURE ©iStockphoto.com/©igorterekhov ©iStockphoto.com/
  • 17. Here are 11 enabling rules that work with nature. artwork:SusanOttevanger
  • 18. …these 11 enabling rules emerged from reflection on real, everyday business life with clients and colleagues through the lens of complex adaptive systems.
  • 19. Pursue agility and resilience. (abandon illusions of predictability) Living systems present too many variables for us to rely on one assumed future scenario. “Life in beta”is Bruce Nussbaum’s¹ term for the notion of continuously sensing, interpreting and acting on shifting environmental conditions. 1. artwork:SusanOttevanger
  • 20. Consciously learn from daily experience. (rather than rely on formal training) Step-by-step training prepares people for repetitive, judgment-free procedures. But business skills such as sensing, sense-making and taking appropriate action are improved through a process of inquiry and reflection on real, messy human experiences. 2.
  • 21. Allow solutions to emerge. (look beyond existing pieces of the puzzle) Avoid jumping to answers and making assumptions based on direct cause and effect relationships. Instead, re-frame questions to expand the possibilities, then explore fast, cheap iterations in a process of experiment/learn/adjust/repeat until a better solution becomes apparent. 3. artwork:SusanOttevanger
  • 22. Pull, don’t push. (avoid efforts to overcome resistance to ideas) Strange attractor is a term from chaos theory describing “points that remain close to the attractor even if slightly disturbed.”² Some scientists may wince at applying attractor to business, but this sticky term reminds us to engage followers, influencers, and champions while avoiding contests aimed at control. 4. Strange Attractor
  • 23. Seek healthy mixtures. (avoid monocultures like the plague) Biodiversity is a condition for survival. Sameness and replication are enemies of innovation. Diverse viewpoints lead to better solutions by challenging assumptions, reframing questions and avoiding self-limiting either/or choices. 5. artwork:SusanOttevanger
  • 24. Establish a purpose and boundaries. (tight controls do more harm than good) Industrial era notions of control came about when people were viewed as extensions of machines. Pay attention to what Dan Pink says about motivation – Mastery! Purpose! Autonomy! (see Sources, slide #32) 6. artwork:SusanOttevanger
  • 25. Appreciate the messy phases. (innovation does not occur with clinical precision) The notion of self-organization at the edge of chaos makes industrial-minded administrators nervous. But successful innovation happens when people give up central planning and see beyond neat, over-simplified answers, then work through the disorder to create better solutions. 7. ©SusanOttevanger/susan@seewater.com
  • 26. Expect non-linear progress. (there will be ups and downs) The creative process depends on the learning that emerges from each trial and error iteration. Instead of being surprised and daunted by a naturally bumpy process, it can be recognized as a progressive journey. This view is not a matter of positive thinking; it’s derived from the realities of adaptive systems. 8.  You may be here.
  • 27. Cooperate to create abundance. (pure competition leads to scarcity) Machine age economics were based on assumptions of gain or loss, rather than interdependence. In natural, self-organizing systems the well- being of any given organism is dependent on the success of the larger whole. 9. ©SusanOttevanger/susan@seewater.com
  • 28. Promote grassroots initiatives. (see the weaknesses in top-down programs) In contrast to top-down programs that invite resistance, small self-organizing experiments can be contagious, with higher impact. These outlier (or pilot) projects demonstrate a better way forward through positive deviance by mavericks who get things done. 10. artwork:SusanOttevanger
  • 29. Work in a place designed for humans. (in contrast to restrictive, generic office spaces) Knowledge workers benefit from physical environments that recognize the changing biology of business. This means creating spaces that inspire big ideas and facilitate the flow of various activities that take place in a day (instead of the old question: open or closed offices?). 11.
  • 30. 1. Pursue agility and resilience. 2. Consciously learn from daily experience. 3. Allow solutions to emerge. 4. Pull, don’t push. 5. Seek healthy mixtures. 6. Rely on vision and boundaries. 7. Appreciate the messy phases. 8. Expect non-linear progress. 9. Cooperate to create abundance. 10. Promote grassroots initiatives. 11. Work in a place designed for humans. These design thinking concepts are not new, yet examples of mechanical models and their negative consequences are evident in business all day, every day.
  • 31. ...cannot be directed/controlled but can be influenced/disturbed. Henri Lipmanowicz Plexus Institute Because change is non-linear, a small change can produce a large effect. Or a large change may produce no effect at all. Curt Lindberg Plexus Institute Business must abandon efforts to craft the perfect plan for the future. Alex & David Bennet Organizational Survival in the New World It’s not a good time for control freaks. Eric Young quoted in Getting to Maybe by Westley, Zimmerman & Patton summary comments “ ” Mastery. Purpose. Autonomy. Dan Pink Drive
  • 32. credits + inspiration Plexus Institute http://www.plexusinstitute.org/ Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos by A. Mitchell Waldrop Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Dan Pink ¹ Bruce Nussbaum http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/Nussbaum OnDesign/archives/2009/11/life_in_beta--h.html ² Wikipedia on “Attractors” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attractor The Fortune Sellers by William A. Sherden Getting to Maybe by Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman & Michael Quinn Patton Managing the Unexpected: Assuring High Performance in an Age of Complexity by Karl E. Weick & Kathleen M. Sutcliffe Modern Times, the film artwork as noted: Susan Ottevanger susan-ottevanger.com/
  • 33. SIMPLE COMPLICATED COMPLEX (baking a cake) (constructing a building) (sustaining a business or raising a child) adapted from Getting to Maybe by Westley, Zimmerman & Patton LINEAR INSTRUCTIONS PREDICTABLE OUTCOME EXPERTS COORDINATE MANY SETS of INSTRUCTIONS to ACHIEVE a SPECIFIED OUTCOME INHERENT VARIETY and UNCERTAINTY in a DYNAMIC ENVIRONMENT Requires continuous INTERPRETING and SENSING; may lead to SURPRISE
  • 34. When we’re working with nature… artwork:SusanOttevanger
  • 35. Sharon VanderKaay Twitter: @svkaay …fresh possibilities for success can emerge. artwork:SusanOttevanger