Complexity is as complex adaptive systems does?


There is a fascinating and very engaging conversation about complex adaptive 'things' and whether they are 'systems' on Chis Rogers's blog.

The nub of it, for me, is based on Dave Snowden's point that ...

"I think if you argue that complexity is inherent in all human action, then you are failing to appreciate one of the key aspects of human systems as opposed to those in nature, namely the ability through constraints etc. to create order in the sense of predictable cause and effect relationships"

I go along, largely, with the Cynefin framework. I make the distinctions in slightly different terms: the key for me is the difference between variables 'with or without attitude', by which I mean, simply, self-organising, self-reproducing, and self-multiplying capability.

It might be useful to divide the problem, for starters, into three scenarios: those in which, with some effort, you can achieve predictability, compliance, and participation.

1. Predictability.
This can be achieved if you work exclusively with variables that are not self-organising (to start with, lets limit this to the lack of RNA/DNA), and which can accordingly be treated as predictable systems with alacrity. As long as you dont work at too massive or too nano a scale, they behave as predicted (given the benefit of a few hundred years of science). So yes, we (uniquely) can create predictable order (although it took us a while to learn how to do this!)

2. Compliance.
This can be achieved in a 'mixed ontology' of variables with and without attitude. You can choose to constrain the variables that you are working with 'as if' they are predictable, simply by denying them any self-organisation. Ecology, democracy, global warming, Fascism, Stalinism, Arab Springs, etc, all teach us, sadly, that this is unsustainable - eventually.

3. Participation.
You can 'govern with consent' as the primers of political science teach us - and it applies to ecologies, Ozone holes and all sorts of other things too.

So yes, most things are complex, some things are (within specifically defined domains) predictable, and we are arrogant (and sometimes lucky) enough to think we can get away with treating some complex things as if they were dumb and predictable.
We need to know our way around the Cynefin (or a comparable) framework, even if only to know when we are in denial, and when our 'order' is likely to remain predictable, and when it will show its attitude, and is likely to kick back. After that its up to you (or your unsuspecting children).