Constraint typology

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A typology of constraints

Containers Connections Exert a force
Robust (survive unchanged until they break and if they break then it is generally catastrophic) Resilient (survive by change, continuity of identity over time) Change can trigger a phase shift (anti-fragile would be a part of this)
Generally ordered Generally complex TBD
Clear decisions Natural conditions Decisions that allow for emergence

A matrix view of the typology of constraints

Robust Resilient
Rigid/Fixed Elastic Tethers Permeable Phase shifts (previously known as "mutating") Dark
Containers e.g. Seawalls e.g. Family? e.g. Fixed operating budgets e.g. Salt marshes e.g. Case law e.g. Cultural taboos
Connections e.g. Queen + subject e.g. Manager + team member e.g. Police officer + speeding driver e.g. Team member + team member e.g. A marriage

Dark constraints exert a force that we can detect but we cannot trace it back.

These may become a set of three triads which will also allow mapping in SenseMaker®.

In more detail:

Robust constraints

  • Can be either Rigid or Governing (degrees of flexibility or discretion)
  • Survive by becoming stronger and more entrenched
  • They are context-free, which means they apply to everything, regardless of context
  • When they fail, do so catastrophically

Resilient constraints

  • Also referred to as enabling - designed to encourage agency
  • Survive by adapting and changing, continuity of identity over time
  • Are contextual - can be adapted for context; guidelines or heuristics rather than rules
  • When they break, there is usually some warning or the impact is small

Robust constraints can be …

  1. Rigid or fixed which means they are clearly defined, visible and can be enforced. If you want a metaphor think of a sea wall, or dykes. They have all the advantages of certainty, all the disadvantages of sudden catastrophic failure when their limits are reached.
  2. Elastic and thus have the benefit of adapting to a degree of change which is good, but they can still break and possibly give a false level of confidence. An elastic waistband may give you the illusion of maintaining a healthy weight but only for a time. The failure is more extreme.
  3. Tethers which provide a backstop, like a tow rope for example which has the slack taken up before it applies. These can be fail safes, backups only coming into play in extremis. The danger is damage when they snap into effect, both for the object being tethered and for the tether itself.

Resilient constraints can be …

  1. Permeable (for containers) or conditional (for coupling), in both cases the constraint is contingent. Some things can get through others can’t. Think of a salt marsh to contrast with the sea wall if you want an example. Or a system where rules can be broken in specific cases subject to heuristic control.
  2. Mutating which means they change over time, they don’t switch on and off, you can see the evolutionary pattern. Case based legal systems on contrast with those based on the Napoleonic code would be a good example of these. In companies, they are hardly ever used, but could be valuable.
  3. Dark are like dark matter or dark energy, we can see their impact but we don’t know what they are. Aspects of organisational culture fall into this category as do taboos, rituals, and the like. Far more prevalent in modern organisations than people realise they are almost a complex system in their own right, only knowable or changeable by interaction.