Org5.0 Blog

Dynamics of Complexity - conscious positioning on the complexity map

posted Apr 28, 2017, 7:46 AM by John Oliver

I'm very interested in charting / documenting the dynamics across the complexity realms, with the goal of helping conscious decision-making within systems.
Here below is a first edit of how and when we cross complexity domains, with inspiration from Dave Snowden in this video from the Leam WX conference NY 2015.

Making the case for messy organisational design

posted Apr 28, 2017, 6:15 AM by John Oliver   [ updated Apr 28, 2017, 6:21 AM ]

A great case here made by Alicia Juarrero for the shift to knowing what are the limits of the applicability of Newtonian logic.

Organisations need to be necessarily "messy" in order to handle turbulence. 

Alicia also mentions:
  • Concepts such as utopia appear only in Western philosophical thought as compared to Eastern thought that focuses far more on processes 
    • this one potential danger of the interpretaion of "Teal Organisation" in Western cultures, that it in fact represents a stable and predictable utopia?

Word of the day: "Negentropic process" (or negentropy)

posted Apr 28, 2017, 3:32 AM by John Oliver   [ updated Apr 28, 2017, 7:24 AM ]


For future consideration and debate is how does it compare to:
  • Stigmergy (quoted often in Viable Systems model by Patrick Hoverstadt)
  • Syntropy
  • Vitalism
As a footnote, when looking at organisational developmental models such as from Richard Barrett, I believe that entropy applies all the way up the stages of consciousness (or in the Spiral Dynamics language, the shadow side of Green-Yellow-Teal etc.). Currently, the Barretts model only captures the entropy of the lower part of the stages model.

Difference between Complex Adaptive Systems and Viable Systems Frameworks

posted Mar 21, 2017, 12:34 AM by John Oliver   [ updated Mar 21, 2017, 12:53 AM ]

I've been over the recent years fascinated by two constrasting publications, from Dave Snowden (A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making - Harvard Business Review and Patrick Hoverstadt (The Fractal Organisation - Wiley).

Robert Flood's "Rethinking the Fifth Discipline: Learning Within the Unknowable" is a cool third reference point.

They seem to have considerable overlap, yet coming from different perspectives. How can we make sense of this?

Consider the two entries from Wikipedia for the two above terms:
  • Complex Adaptive Systems:
    • A complex adaptive system is a "complex macroscopic collection" of relatively "similar and partially connected micro-structures" formed in order to adapt to the changing environment and increase its survivability as a macro-structure.
    • Key proponents, figures in the field: Dave Snowden
  • Viable Systems:
    • "Viable system theory (VST) concerns cybernetic processes in relation to the development/evolution of dynamic systems. They are considered to be living systems in the sense that they are complex and adaptive, can learn, and are capable of maintaining an autonomous existence, at least within the confines of their constraints. These attributes involve the maintenance of internal stability through adaptation to changing environments."
    • Key proponent, figures in the field: Stafford Beer process of being edited 21/03/17.

What is the alternative to bureaucracy? Enter computer-assisted community systems management...

posted Mar 7, 2017, 1:44 AM by John Oliver

A question you might say that we have been circling around ever since the Industrial Revolution, but the answer is in my view an area of scientific analysis and management of resources towards a field that is something along the lines of "Computer Assisted Community Systems Management". 

This field combines insights from:
  • Complex Adaptive Systems models (applied to organisations by Snowden et al.)
  • Viable Systems Model (Stafford Beers, Patrick Hoverstadt etc.)
  • Requisite Design (Eliot Jaques)
  • Organizational/Social Network Analysis
...but suffer from just being overwhelmingly complex for current managers to apprehend and integrate.

But computers will be doing that for them, and there are examples with Morning Star's attempts at modelling relationships between employees with their CLOUs (Colleague Letter of Understanding) descriptions (and Nicolay Worren has also done some exercises of comparing formal and social networks at PA Consulting).

As Elon Musk recently said, jobs will be divided into two categories, either telling a computer what to do or being told by the computer what to do.

Anthropology / sociology insights - why we cross the line

posted Feb 27, 2017, 8:06 AM by John Oliver

An easyJet walkway control panel

This is a classic organisational or systems example of where there is a designer of a system (e.g. the label writer) having very different outcomes from those this simple disobedience or ignorance on the part of the operator?

Or has the "system" not been designed to connect the operator with the outcomes of his/her actions?

I have found that anthropology and sociology has a lot to offer here in terms of insights of behaviours and responses, where seemingly illogical behaviours by operators can be seen far more subtle light.

For example, the person writing the label totally ignored to create a proper shelf for the operator's jumper and daily newspaper...whilst in a rush with daily operations, where else does the label writer expect the operator to put his items (which, if there had been i) a sociological observer ii) or an operator involved in the design, it would of been an obvious need for a proper shelf!)? 

Why looking for the "Networked Organization" paradigm I suggest has major limitations

posted Jan 11, 2017, 1:11 AM by John Oliver

Hailed as a new paradigm, Integrated Perspectives (anthropological, sociological, systems, psychological etc. - see related posts to Integrated Perspectives) can help our understanding as to the importance of the networked organisation in the future.

How far should internal competition between managers be pushed?

posted Dec 7, 2016, 5:35 AM by John Oliver

Constructive vs destructive competition between managers
There has been speculation that the downfall of Ericsson (this 30-07-16 Economist article "Hans Free") has been in part due to an over emphasis of cultivating internal competition between managers, encouraged by the outgoing CEO Hans Vestberg.

Much has been written about the benefits of internal markets and open competition within organisations, especially in relation to encouraging innovation, which Ericsson desperately needs (Mr Vestberg, who has spent his whole career at Ericsson, failed to produce a radical plan beyond building networks. Shareholders bemoaned low investment in new areas).

This HBR article from November 2015 "To Encourage Innovation, Make It a Competition" lays out convincing arguments, especially for the public competitions.

However, when the competition is internal to an organisation, there is a very delicate balance to find between competition and collaboration. These are classic orthagonally competing values, as detailed in Cameron and Quinn's Competing Values Framework. 

The solution I propose is in having clear principles to where and how the limits of the competition are drawn.

Time and time again, when seeking to harness competing values, explicit principles can provide guidelines for all participants for a conscious embrace of the benefits of constructive conflict.

Designing those principles requires careful throught, and there are some great examples from the organisation case study research on this website. 

Please contact me if you'd like some guidance on references!

John Oliver
Tel. +33 6 33 02 94 08

Addressing the Complexity Gap: Developing Integrated Thinking Skills at Board Level

posted Feb 11, 2016, 6:00 AM by John Oliver   [ updated Feb 11, 2016, 6:02 AM ]

My latest joint article, written for the Jossey-Bass Board Leadership Newsletter (Jan 2015):

Can Science Answer Our Moral Questions?

posted Sep 14, 2015, 2:15 AM by John Oliver   [ updated Feb 11, 2016, 5:59 AM ]

I believe the answer to be emphatically no!

Raising this topice was triggered by Sam Harris's TED talk ("Science can answer moral questions" TED2010) who presents his views on how science can be objectively applied to values.
    • My own opinion is that type of argument falls into the trap of (in Integral language) collapsing "exteriors" onto "interiors", ignoring that both co-emerge. 

Ken Wilber in his book "Quantum Questions" recounts how so many the leading scientists in the 20th century were drawn to the wisdom traditions in grappling with just such questions of paradoxes in the persuit of science as the ultimate perspective (science over values). 

Sam Harris explains how science can used to objectively compare societal values. He tackles how some societies can be compared to others as being inferior in their impact on the wellbeing of their communities, and takes on full frontal how religions denegrate their communities' wellbeing.

He frames his arguments in terms of values affecting the "well-being" of the society, which by this he refers to the physical wellbeing.

And this for me is the main rub, since beyond measuring physical wellbeing in terms of vital physiological signs (across a potentially agreed list of essential ones from weight, heart-rate, through to life expectancy etc.), his argument falls flat when going any further towards psychological wellbeing.

Ken Wilber warned against efforts to collapse the three perspectives of Arts, Morals and Science (based on the Quadrants, where Science covers both the Top and Bottome RH Quadrants, the Arts as the Top LH Quadrant and Morals and the Bottom LH Quadrant).

This may be an extreme example, but testing Sam Harris' arguments further takes you to consider that the bodies in the Matrix film pods have all perhaps ideal physiological health scores, but can society totally rely on science's measures for our complete wellbeing?

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