Random Thoughts on Human-centric World Improvement

Posts tagged ‘Complexity’

Less Is More, More Or Less…

less-is-moreOur society is becoming increasingly complex and super-integrated. The increasing number of connections could on one hand help solve all kinds of problems we now face together, but on the other hand, the sheer complexity could also lead to increased fear. Fear of not being able to cope with complexity anymore. So what do we need? Simplification seems to be the first answer that comes bubbling up. But simplify what? Make less connections? Seems uncontrollabe. Invent less technologies? This would hinder inventions and innovations, seems not a good idea. Less processes? We need processes and many already work ok, maybe we should accept this as a fact. Less methodologies? Would be nice but could lead hindering evolution by limiting diversity. Less organizations? Let it go. Orgs are already organizing themselves through open market principles. What about just simply Less control? Less control would help in letting things go and allow for some selforganization. This already is happening (experimentally) in certain areas. And there seems to be no hard evidences that limiting control  increases problems. Nevertheless, good luck with your search for more or less complexity,whatever works fine for your situation.

Simplify the Communication, Not the Architecture

Have you encountered this also in your daily interactions with others? I mean the allmost automatic or intuitive Human reaction to complex problems is that they most of the time try to simplify complex cases by stripping things.  Things that might at first hindsight be non-essential but at second hindsight are very essential.

Suppose you present a complex picture like the exploded view of the motor shown in the picture, the standard reaction can be to leave out details so people can have a better overview. This is where it can go wrong. If people (not you and me but all the others ofcourse) abstract complex things without knowing the essentials of the complexity, they might make the wrong (or sometimes even desastrous) decision. So the key to abstraction is that you translate a certain given complexity to a simpler viewpoint WITHOUT leaving out the essential aspects. In the example case, the abstracted picture could be a motorcycle where the exploded view of the motor is now merely an integral part of the total concept. But the details inside are still essential. And thus you cannot leave them out. Even if you think they are too complex or too costly or whatever.

I think Einstein got it right when he stated: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”.  Map this to the exploded view of the engine and you know what I mean. So we should keep the complexity, not fight it, but abstract it only on communication level, not on architectural level! And that’s where communication skills can come in handy: if you can’t explain it to your grandmother or to your children, you should abstract your viewpoints, but not the architectural essentials! Leave the multi-layer approach (figure inspired by a Wikipedia article) intact! Happy decomplexing!

Why Traditional Ownership Strategies Often Fail And What To Do About It

Picture source here. Traditionally, ownership is a key theme in many organizations. For many Business related “problems” we often tend to think that ownership will be the way to solve them. And that is ofcourse very true. Without ownership, noone feels “responsible” and we tend to let things go. So ownership helps. But what do we often see: in larger organizations there is a natural tendency to centralize things. We tend to centralize, integrate, uniform, standardize or (out)source on several topics: processes, organizational roles, functionalities, job descriptions, tasks, components, services, ICT etc. And from efficiency point of view there seems at first sight nothing wrong with that. But it can and often will also introduce new problems. By centralizing something which before was decentralized we need to rethink the ownership problem. And centralization will seem to make certain problems less complex but that is not allways true. Sometimes we only redistribute the complexity by centralisation and move the problem into another area. The total complexity remains or might even get worse. So what should we do instead? If we want to make people responsible for something, we must design architectures that are optimized for decentralization as much as possible to the personal level. The more personal ownership can be pinpointed, the better. What do we loose by this approach? We loose some efficiency because we add redundancy. But we gain effectiveness, we reduce the total complexity (because it is now distributed) and we have also spread riscs enourmously by decentralization. So in my opinion, in a human-centrically designed distributed architecture there can be,  on an overall (enterprise) level, more advantages than disadvantages. What is your opinion?

Goodbye Planning, Welcome Real Time Decision Making – You Can Make It Possible!

Figure source. Just some crazy thought, but suppose organizations could make all of their decisions in realtime, just like a flock of birds does? What kind of information would we need to make realtime decisions? Well, if the goal is just to “survive” (“keep flying”) it would probably be sufficient to have  information of the innovation speed and direction of direct “neighbors”. Suppose we could facilitate (supported with modern ICT) a distributed network of decision making information. And each node (decision making “entity”) in the network would get the decision making information relevant for making the most important (“survival”) decisions. So what are then the most important decisions? If we compare to the flock of birds, it’s making sure you’re “local” innovation speed and direction matches that of your direct environment. It’s allmost as if we would apply Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety here. The law states that  “variety absorbs variety, defines the minimum number of states necessary for a controller to control a system of a given number of states.” So here you have it: you need to match your own variety with that of your direct environment. Don’t make it more complex or less complex but make sure the complexity matches. And to reduce the decision making complexity you could try to limit the number of decision making connections because that would make the distributed decision making process more complex. That is because the complexity of the network increases quadratically with the number of connected nodes. But also the value of a network increases proportional to the number of connected nodes (Metcalfe’s Law). So we need large networks to create more value. The large networks could consist of interconnected small “local” networks to reduce the total decision making complexity. So here’s a wrap up: use the distributed topology Paul Baran† designed for the Internet as a reference model for distributed decision making and as a reference model for distributed value creation, combine that with Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety to reduce the “local” decision making complexity and combine that with Metcalfe’s Law to increase the total value of our network. If we would really do that, I wonder how our would world look like?

So You Want To Create A Brave New World? Here’s Some Inspiration

The following tips are in no way scientifically proven but might yet be worth the try. I hope you find them useful.

  • Tip 1: respectfully say bye to traditional (red ocean, greed-centered) strategy schools, say hi to (blue ocean) society oriented strategies.
  • Tip 2: respectfully say bye to traditional power- or  status oriented (Taylor-”made”) management schools, say hi to “tailor-made” schools that focus more on organizing people rather than on managing people.
  • Tip 3: respectfully say bye to efficiency as a primary goal, say hi to effectiveness as a primary goal
  • Tip 4: respectfully say bye to common fears that block true renewal (fear of isolation, fear of incompetence, fear of inconsistence, fear for imperfection, fear of separation, fear of ignorance, fear of complexity, fear for loss of control, fear for learning, fear for letting go the past etc. and say hi to their powerful counterparts such as love, respect, learning culture etc.
  • Tip 5: respectfully say bye to traditional sharing strategies (greed, egoism, selfishness) and say hi to joyful sharing strategies
  • Tip 6: respectfully say bye to innovation strategies aiming at free markets and say hi to strategies aiming at societal goals markets
  • Tip 7: respectfully say bye to old style thinking and doing and say hi to new style thinking and doing
  • Tip 8: respectfully say bye to fakeness and dishonesty and say hi to authenticness and honesty
  • Tip 9: respectfully say bye to traditional scarcity thinking and say hi to abundance thinking
  • Tip 10: respectfully say bye to rational (or scientifically proven) decision making and say hi to (spiritual) decision making based on your intuition and your heart

Ofcourse you don’t need to say goodbye to all the above, but a better balance wouldn’t hurt our society. So Good Luck and please let me know what worked for you. 

How Einstein and Mummy Are Related and How You Can Use This To Your Benefit

Einstein once said: everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. He was very right. If you take a look at some of the “systems” society has created, they have a tendency to become increasingly complex. In some cases this is oke, if the system under consideration is highly accepted, used and promoted. For example the Internet. But in other cases, we have built upon base systems and added complexity on top by layering. It’s as if we didn’t want to take proper time for redesign. By hiding the details (creating intransparancy) we were able to prevent true redesign. Now these type of systems, that have what I call redundant complexity could maybe better be unwrapped to find out there original, true intention or meaning again. And then redevelop from these new insights again. That way, we would at least limit the total complexity. For example the world’s financial system might be a good candidate given the crises it has put us all in. Or the availabilty of hundreds of thousands of “standards”, sometimes developed with so much complexity that it thereby hinders a true level playing field. Or systems that are designed with abundant features where a good is good enough design would have been sufficient. So for these types of systems, a “let’s unwrap first before adding an extra wrap around this mummy” mightbe just the right approach, honoring Einstein. Source of the mummy figure is here.

How You Can Start To Love Complexity

Complexity isn’t a bad thing. If we are willing to accept that it is there, maybe we will be able to embrace it. And start taking it as a given instead of something we should try to conquer. It’s the way we try to distribute complexity where things can go wrong. A very natural tendency we seem to have is to consider a complex case, abstract by leaving out all things we don’t want to see and then renew partially. Look at today’s larger organizations: they are often large, complex social systems. And yet we seem to support them predominantly with swiss-army-knive type architectures because that makes things easier for at least a part of the organization. It’s in fact a brute force method for which you need brute force governance. And it most probably leads to suboptimization which is not bad perse but if we could make it better, why not? So that is where a few simple renewal principles might come to help. A flock of birds needs only two principles to stay airborne: know the distance and speed of your direct neighbors and adapt your own distance and speed to that. The flock principles. Now suppose we tried to handle complex cases in our complex social systems based on these flock principles. And suppose we abstracted out all redundant information, we would already be able to “stay airborne” and still renew locally. Abstracting out would imply leaving out all relationships that are not directly connected (or to compare with the flock: no direct visibility). Then you only need to handle the direct relationships (the ones that have direct visibility) but you may never change the global “flock” principles. So if we would limit the number of direct relationships and trust on eachother that the total still would work optimal, this could possibly help us architecting distributed concepts.

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