Fragile or Agile?:: the Law of Requisite Variety [Ashby’s Law]


The Law of Requisite Variety

I am sorry to say that I don’t know too many leaders who have acted or are prepared to act to create agile, service-orientated systems “because of the economy”! That is why operations, whose owners fail to adapt to a changed environment become UNSUSTAINABLE &FRAGILE.

Voilà! VOLATILITY & UNCERTAINTY…what better reasons to build-in resilience???

“Controlling the environment” is a pretty tall order, so I prefer to focus upon tasks us mere mortals can tackle. For example, tackling systems built to manage people, their “ambiguous” strategies and the culture that it spawned. These add complexity that impairs the effectiveness of the business to perform the functions for which it was created. Aligning the digital structure of the business to the “effective information-flow” in its sub- systems and ecosystem, creates a responsive, adaptable, business that can work to attain the “requisite variety” to regulate the system. Result: RESILIENT & SUSTAINABLE

Since customer needs come in all shapes and sizes, variety is a fact of life in any service business.

The Law of Requisite Variety, also known as Ashby’s Law, for the neuroscientist who first formulated it, says that any control system must be capable of a number of possible states that is greater than or equal to the number of states in the system to be controlled*.

In other words, if there is variety in the environment you need enough variety in your system to absorb it effectively. Think of a juggler: no matter how skilled the juggler, there will always be a point where there are too many possible states for the juggler’s mind and hands to maintain control.

There are two ways to deal with variety. You can reduce variety by standardising inputs and controlling the environment as much as possible, or you can design a system that’s capable of absorbing more variety.

One Response to Fragile or Agile?:: the Law of Requisite Variety [Ashby’s Law]

  1. A further thought:

    How many leaders realised the metabolic price that their business systems would pay for marginalising “dissenting voices” – particularly on matters of GRC?

    They sacrificed variety for self-similarity…that boosted results but at the expense of a culture “rich” with moral hazard whose, self-generated, complexity, unseen, erodes the health [resilience] of the system and networks at every scale.

    Are we embracing and applying what we have learnt?

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