Complex Adaptive Systems

“The study of how living and nonliving things organize themselves into patterns and interact as emergent systems is the basis for the science of complexity. Complexity is extremely multidisciplinary and involves scientists in a vast assortment of fields from Biology to Physics. It is also closely related to Fractal Geometry and Chaos Theory. Chaos is a new scientific theory for dealing with systems that are complex, unpredictable, and/or have random events, or, in other words, most of the real world. Natural systems are so complicated that no matter how carefully we measure them, we can’t know everything about them. Although measurements can be extremely accurate, they can’t be accurate to infinity, and tiny differences/errors in the beginning can lead to gigantic ones later. This is known as the Butterfly Effect, because under the right circumstances, the effect of the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings can make the difference between whether or not there will be a tornado.(So much for ever getting accurate weather predictions.)This shows how even the actions of the smallest creature can have a large effect on the whole. In ecological systems, everything is connected”….Wikipedia.

The principles of chaos/complexity theory are very important ideas for the Transformational Leader/Master Capacity Builder. As a dynamic organization or learning community is transformed, it will often do so as a result of unpredictable forces. Without the capacity for diverse people to respond without rigid rules and regulations, no organization or community will be able to anticipate change and adapt themselves to emerging transformation. Ideas, strategies and actions will emerge as a result of “futures generative dialogue.” Quickly connecting disparate ideas, strategies, and actions, and feeding back the results will allow any person, organization or community to change directions and adapt to a constant changing context.

There are five principles of “complexity theory” that are important to any leader, especially in the field of education where emerging knowledge and weak signals will need to be connected to be able to create a “futures context.”

  • Establishing and creating initial conditions
  • Self-organizing
  • Emergence
  • Constant feedback
  • Systemic use of interlocking networks.

The application of the principles of “complex adaptive systems” applied to the theory of planning for the future has resulted in the concept of DICE (Design, Indentify, Connect and Emerge). Very different from its complementary brother approach  of strategic planning, “adaptive planning” is focused on the idea of build capacities for resilience in local communities so that whatever emerges, those leaders and citizens within a local areas will be able to understand what needs to be done to adapt to changing conditions and situations.