Systems, Complexity, Networks part II

March 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Clock-WorkPhoto by: RandomStar

A shared e-mail from Gibran to Curtis


I love thinking about this stuff with you – specially given the privilege that we have in actualizing these innovations through our most exciting client work.  We have to look a lot more deeply into what we are each calling a network.  As implied in my tweet of the Jeff Stamps quote:

“The evolution is from systems, to complexity to networks – these transcend and include each other.”

I actually don’t believe these are apples and oranges, they are evolving descriptions of the very same dynamic.  Since we are the Interaction Institute for Social Change I will focus my reflections on how the thinking is applied to social reality.

Industrial  dynamics tend to scale up, they tend to favor economies of scale, but this is the sort of growth that makes things more complicated.  Systems thinking emerges out of this complicated and mechanistic paradigm, systems thinking essentially deals with “things,” or with social abstractions such as “organizations.”  This is not where systems thinking ends!  This is just where it comes from.

As we contend with this same social reality, and we use systems thinking to see interconnections, we start to see a shift from complicated to complex, linearity breaks down to such a degree that even the loops and double loops of systems no longer seem to hold it all.  Here emerges complexity theory.  Not separate from systems thinking and not displacing it – just adding another layer of understanding to it.  Jeff explains, and I agree, that the BIG contribution of complexity is that it starts looking beyond things to the relationships between things – it makes relationships ontologically equal to things.  THIS IS HUGE! It makes it possible to focus on “being-with.”

So now we are living in a complex world where dynamic systems are at play in complex ways.  It is at this point that networks emerge as the third layer of understanding the very same social reality we have been exploring all along.  In a world where dynamic systems are at work in complex ways we see networks emerge as the very logic of that social reality, the “organizing unit,” the underlying pattern.

Networks are not new, they have always been there.  Over the decades we have done what humans do.  We have looked, and looked, and looked.  We looked at a social reality with a lens defined by the industrial paradigm and we saw systems.  We kept looking at social reality as influenced by the transition from Newtonian to Quantum science and we saw complexity.  We kept contending with complexity through the advent of the world wide web and we started to see networks.

This is all good news.  The lens of networks allows us to contend with complexity by scaling our approach back from ever bigger mechanisms into a human scale.  It is at this human scale, “do what you do best and link to the rest,” that relationships take primacy, human gifts of sensing and intuition are essential, we shift our approach toward cultivation and to the more organic lens that makes emergence possible.

Let’s keep going!



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