Design principles for managing complexity

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These are the generic principles for design in anthro-complexity:

  1. Work at a coherent level of granularity, which generally means to work at a lower, or more finely grained, level of detail.
  2. Distribute the cognition, when orientating a problem, issue or situation within a wider context.
  3. Disintermediate the decision-maker and the activity.

Things that you should be wary of:

  1. Inattentional Blindness - We simply do not see the things we do not expect to see.
  2. Premature convergence
  3. Pattern entrainment - Our perception, what we physically perceive, is influenced by what we expect to see and is filtered by our existing concepts and world view. It is a first fit, not best fit, pattern recognition and privileges our most recent experience.
  4. Path dependency - Our predisposition on how to act is based on our accumulated knowledge and previous experiences, these influence the path we are likely to choose in a situation.
  5. Retrospective coherence

Things that you ask:

  1. What can I change?
  2. (out of that set) Where can I monitor the impact of change?
  3. (out of that set) Where can I readily amplify success or dampen failure?

You scale a complex adaptive system by decomposition (to the lowest level of coherent granularity) and rapid recombination

Things you manage

There really are only three things we can manage in a complex adaptive system:

  1. Connections
  2. Constraints and
  3. Energy allocation

Everything else is for the birds.

Things you do

  1. Identify which aspects of the system are complex.
  2. Identify, from what is in play, the things available to manage.
  3. You only need to understand enough, in order to act.
  4. From what’s in play, consider what can be modified (or modulated).
  5. From what can be modified, what can be monitored.
  6. From what can be monitored, what can be rapidly amplified or dampened.


The scaling principle also applies to the way you resolve conflict

The common (and often not properly attributed) What, So What, Now What question sequence really needs to interweave with the above rather than apply to the situation as a whole. For more on that phrase, its origin and issues this post has some thoughts