Duncan Watts [presentation]:: The Myth of Common Sense


Duncan Watts is a clever guy! Not just because he is well educated, which he undoubtedly is but because he has the ability to explain why “common sense” works in the appropriate domain(s) – simple, maybe even complicated – but is particularly dangerous in complex or chaotic domains. But, then again, that is what this definition tells us: “sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts“. But when I talk about these different domains you should not visualise this as “islands” or separate entities. Rather, as various “conditions” or “states” that can be found within a single complex [adaptive] system, its sub-systems and networks at any given time, as it performs the many inter-connected processes that underpin functionality.

Why is this relevant? Because “common sense” isn’t much use if you are dealing with a system so complex that you CANNOT understand its complexity, track causality or anticipate the unintended outcomes (or unintended consequences)! Where the smallest decisions can have enormous consequences and the smartest decisions can be counter-intuitive, how can they be validated when the crowd advocate “common sense”???

I urge you to watch the presentation (even read the book!) and, if this has whetted your appetite, you may also be interested in what Atul Gawande has to say about surgeons dealing with complexity, Tim Harford talking about Oil Rigs or Dave Snowden a kids party!

Social problems…must be viewed not as the subject of rhetorical debates, but as scientific problems, in the sense that some combination of theory, data, and experiment can provide useful insights beyond that which can be derived through intuition and experience alone.

Freakonomics » The Myth of Common Sense: Why The Social World Is Less Obvious Than It Seems.

Too often we are guilty of over-estimating our own knowledge and underestimating what appears familiar even though we know that appearances can be deceptive – some “creatures” are particularly adept at exploiting this knowledge – and how much we have learnt by looking deeper (into space) or more closely (DNA, bacteria). Living systems come in all shapes and sizes but their true nature and an understanding their “structure” cannot be ascertained without observation at a variety of scales.

Management Consultants: “Capitalising on complexity”


I have accumulated quite a collection of “papers” advising business how to deal with complexity and am happy to share them…so long as everyone understands that I am not endorsing any of them!

For your delectation I am pleased to add to the list of what, in the main are “qualitative management consultant-speak” that, even when referring to research, interviews, etc. read (to me at least) like documents produced on a topic, primarily because it is topical and offers a further opportunity to secure some well paid consultancy work.

This latest publication is from Celerant Consulting. Make up your own mind…then take another look at the Ontonix website.

Call, email me or get an objective, quantitative, insight into complexity for  FREE!

It really makes my day when other people do a marketing job for Ontonix! OK, so there is never a specific recommendation to contact us but we are happy to settle for the next best thing. That is to identify where complexity IS already costing and will, increasingly, cost through: the impact upon clients, customers, employees and “the bottom-line” budget to identify, measure, manage and monitor on an ongoing basis reduced ROI on assets and facilit … Read More

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Public Sector: “complexity paralysis” – creator and casualties


No matter how you express it, in a dynamic (non-linear) system, that is, by definition complex, “what goes around comes around” – the “feedback loop” – complexity begets complexity until the system reaches breaking point – “critical complexity”.

But the closer the system operates to this point the more fragile and unstable it becomes.

Things can, do, get ugly, painful, dangerous and costly on a variety of levels and the impact is felt across domains.

Public Sector: “complexity paralysis” – creator and casualties Image by michael.heiss via Flickr A recent blog about procrastination led me to get this off my mind. It has been rattling around in there for some time… Ever had so much going on in your head that you don’t know what to do first? Too many tasks, too little time: which “master” to satisfy? Every issue or task has its own factors to consider: short term effect; long term impact. Assessing cause and effect or imagining problems, leading you to “f … Read More

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Why “problem-solving capability” NEEDS enlightened leadership


It can be difficult to understand that common management issues and disappointing business performance can be examined in the context of biological, technological and ecological systems but… they can!

If you don’t believe me, you can, pretty readily, get a copy of Stephen Covey’s famous book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. I seem to recall he talks about INTERDEPENDENCE as a “higher state”. In doing so he is touching upon subjects dear to my heart and often taken for granted by each and every one of us…

…we would not fair terribly well without the unimaginable complexity of the ecosystem, that sustains our planet, or  the enormous biological complexity within the human body. There is a growing appreciation of the universality of systems: to such an extent that business, global financial, IT systems and others are now being viewed in a very different way…

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The Curly Factor (via Prologue)


Great insight and humour from a man who knows what he is talking about…I just hope people are listening (although I do, sometimes despair!).

The Curly Factor We  talk about “risk intelligence”  and various gurus and philosophers have called it “the capacity to learn about risk from experience and a special kind of intelligence for thinking about risk and uncertainty.  At the core is always the ability to estimate probabilities accurately.  But what if you are just not very smart, maybe even dumb?  Is there hope?  Actually it pays to be ignorant when it comes to dealing with high impact risk.  That’s w … Read More

via Prologue