3Cs of complexity

July 20, 2008

My mind was activated by a head wind and rain walking between the domestic and international terminals at Auckland en route to Vancouver. Remembering back to the good old 3Ps of marketing I realised I have been in effect developing something similar around complexity so here goes.

  • Constraint is key to understanding complexity, it governs the transition between the three ontologies. Increase constraint and you create an ordered system; over constrain you create the conditions for catastrophic failure; remove constraint and the system is chaotic. Managing constrains is one of the things you can train managers to do, and possible measure (working on that one at the moment).
  • Coherence is the measure and concept by which you judge the validity of an action in a complex domain. A lightly constrained system modifies as agents interact with it, but it does constrain. The constant change means that is it difficult to provide absolute proof of an idea or approach (by the time you did the situation would have changed), but it is possible to create tests (including mathematical tests) of the degree of coherence that an idea has.
  • Connectivity is key to a complex system, where agent proximity has a massive impact on agent action. Of course the nature of connections is also key (just connecting things is not enough. If I increase connectivity I can increase variety and thence novelty by the right selection of links. But I can also increase connectivity of like with like if I want to exploit existing knowledge. I may generate a higher or lower degree of coherence, or at least test my ability to do so.

Not completely there yet (and there may be some more to add) but its a start

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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