Inclinations & dispositions

December 31, 2017

One of the most important things to grasp about a complex adaptive system is that, at a system level, we have no linear material cause but instead we have a dispositional state, a set of possibilities and plausibilities in which a future state cannot be predicted. Now I’ve always found this easy to grasp but I know I’m in a minority. I think it links to religious and other traditions which accept that somethings just are, there is no reason for it. Fundamental attribution error, a mainly Northern European/US issue is the assumption that there is always a cause or a reason for things. I’d trace that back to Kant, Newton etc. and the criticality of cause and effect relationships for the scientific revolution. The birth of sociology is also during that period and the quasi determinism, that in a modern age we might deem Seldon Man, permeates popular thought as well as governance. If something has happened then there must be a reason for it and we attributeture blame or credit accordingly.

Our ability to assume cause is uniquely human, we are attributing qualities to the system that are not part of the system per se, but which arise from our need to make meaning in social constructs. This, like most things, is both good and bad. It is disconnected with reality in both cases and in general the resultant inauthenticity is mostly bad. If we attribute cause, and intentional cause at that, then we get to a position were we start to believe that control is possible. Because we believe that we set targets; achievement of targets is a survival capability so they are achieved regardless of consequence and the whole cycle carries on. One of the things I learnt during my IBM time is the corporate vampire who moves from business to business every year to two years, focuses on target achievement regardless of medium and long term consequence and then moves on a repeats. Reality and consequence are left for who ever follows.

The one thing we can say for certain in a complex adaptive system is that whatever we do will have unintended consequences. The bigger the intervention the higher the risk hence the need to do smaller experiments in parallel. In general many complex problems are solved obliquely not directly. One reason for that is that working obliquely produces unintended consequences that we then observe (anomalies attract) and we sense a new possibility, we innovate. By working around a problem we find possibilities that could not have been discovered directly. In dispositional mapping we not only look at dominant views we also isolate and identity outlier views; people who are seeing the world differently from the norm. In a complex system it is views on the edge that matter. We incline to the conventional, we need to pay attention to the unconventional, the outliers, the mavericks.







Dispositional Inclination
37x13x10″ (95x33x26cm)
April 2006
Gaffer 45% Lead Crystal and silicon bronze
Lost wax glass casting, formed and welded bronze
Unique work

This item is on display at Brian Russell Studio.

Top picture – sunset seen the the trees on a neolithic barrow, Avebury 2017

2 responses to “Inclinations & dispositions”

  1. Yes, I very much agree that the assumption of causality is uniquely human.
    I think humans started with assuming intentionality (of gods & spirit-filled nature) and developed that into the assumption of non-religious causality.
    Yes, we did so to make sense & give meaning and because those are very human needs.
    Regardless of reality.

    BECAUSE of assuming causality Homo sapiens became able to order (parts of otherwise complex adaptive) systems we encountered and were part of.
    Ordered systems, to the extent that they are real, are artificial, at least in the social, intellectual & spiritual realms.
    (This comment would become too complicated if I would argue that order in the inorganic and organic realms is artificial, too.)

    Anthro-complexity, understood as complex adaptive systems (in the social, intellectual & spiritual realms) in which human being play a dominant role, may require letting go of (or accepting limits on) our essentially human need & inclination to order reality…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts

About the Cynefin Company

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.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


Social Links: The Cynefin Company
Social Links: The Cynefin Centre
< Prev

Acting at your own level of competence


One of the most common, and the most irritating aspect of change workshops is the ...

More posts

Next >


- 1 Comment

You see conflict and care in all systems but humans are pretty unique in allowing ...

More posts

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram