Complex Business Systems:: anyone for Beer and cybernetics?


Modernity: business complexity beyond the capability of conventional management and hierarchical structureI first came across the name of Stafford Beer a few years back but, of late, have found myself “drawn” back to his work. As it now makes even more sense, when viewed from an inter-disciplinary perspective, than it did the first time around!

I thought Cybernetics were baddies from Dr Who!!!

First hand experience of the “unnatural”, hierarchical, business structures – that are a legacy of the industrial era – left me cold! Intended to manage people and adequate for managing “linear processes”.

That was my first experience of working life…in an Insurance company whose systems hadn’t evolved much from the days of Dickens. It was only 1979!

“Master and slave, squire and servant, boss and employee, ruling classes and proletariat … the notion of hierarchy is endemic to the human experience of social system. And yet it seems never to suffice as an organizing principle”                                                                                                                                           Stafford Beer

Years later, I was presented with the opportunity to work with a “blank canvass”, by creating a structure “agile” enough to adapt, to support a broking [insurance] strategy that achieved year-on-year growth. Thankfully, I instinctively knew that  a “flatter” structure, that aided and rewarded interdependent working, was a better option for ALL the stakeholders. So it proved.

When subsequently charged with designing and restructuring in other organisations, with engrained culture, legacy IT and fractured  internal communications, the same principles applied. Although “change management” will always be a major challenge, the task is so much easier (and adoption faster) when the people, who will be directly affected by change, gain an understanding of practical interdependence, if not complexity &/or systems thinking.

Inter-connected isn’t Interdependent

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Why YOUR company must become a “tech. company”:: Forbes


The business landscape has changed but too many established businesses are so caught up in doing things the way they “know” rather than adapting to survive in the Digital Age. The most vulnerable [financially fragile] have already paid the ultimate price as new entrants, unencumbered by legacy issues, have outperformed and replaced them. In the process capturing market share. Often far beyond what was conceivable by their predecessors.

Irrespective of the business sector…although some have more inherent problems than others…it is the failure to adapt, as much as it is impact of the turbulent economic climate, that has accounted for some high profile casualties.

This ISN’T 1960 and leaders, whose understanding of business hasn’t progressed much in the intervening 50 years, may not have fully appreciated the scale of the problem. Mastering INFORMATION is THE means by which transformation can be achieved…

We’ve moved from an agrarian through the industrial to the new information economy

Three hundred years ago the world’s wealthiest people owned land.  For centuries wars were fought to control land.  Kings owned land, and by controlling it captured the value of everything produced on that land.  As governments developed, reducing the role of kings, land barons became the wealthiest people in the world.  In an agrarian economy, where most human resources (and pretty much all others for that matter) were deployed in food and shelter production owning land was the most valuable thing on the planet. Read more of this post

Simplifying organisational complexity:: inspired infographics – The Art of Complex Problem Solving


Interactive Infographic: The Art of Complex Problem SolvingClick for interactive version

I’ve never met Marshall Clemens but can state emphatically that I love his mind!

As anyone who has read my blog before will know, simplifying and conveying the message about an abstract concept like complexity is not easy.

Add to that the fact that there is no single/common definition and, apparently, little scope for agreement – certainly not amongst Academics!So not much chance of a common language…UNLESS Marshall has provided an inspired starting point.

“Translating” the scientific and applying it in terms that relate to a business environment is difficult to communicate and, until I found this, difficult for many business-people to visualise. Although excessive complexity can seriously damage both wealth and health!

There are considerable risks associated with conventional, hierarchical, organisations, as well as the management style and associated culture. NOT all of these risks e.g. excessive complexity, are visible…but that does not mean that they are not there! Just that we require the appropriate tools to identify them.

The FACT is, that unmanaged, *self-generated [endogenous], risk is a source of systemic risk and is communicated, using business connections (e.g. financial networks, supply chain) as the conduit, to other entities (large and small; individual and corporate) across industries, communities, borders and domains:

by our inaction WE are adding to the very financial uncertainty and market volatility that we so desperately need to address!

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World Economic Forum:: digital information structure and risk resilience


More critical thinking from WEF. Instead of existing “apart from” digital networks, the “semantic web” is as much apart of us as we are of it! I don’t expect universal agreement but how truly independent are we? How much of what we rely upon, as individuals and businesses, could we do without if we don’t have access to cash to buy food, communications and global logistics?

Understanding and embracing INTERDEPENDENCE would be a good start. After all that is what makes the difference between successful and resilient complex systems and those that are inter-connected but fragile due to ineffective [ambiguous] communications: collaboration not competition. Read more of this post

Agile or fragile?:: organizational complexity is a waste farm


This article is another example of a lesson for Organizations to be prepared for “exaptation”. I have mentioned (more than once!) about the “universality of systems” and that, organizations that are “too busy chopping wood to sharpen the axe” are doing themselves and their stakeholders a great dis-service. Why not consider and embrace, tried and tested, solutions from other sectors and disciplines…instead of sticking to management structures, that were designed to oversee people and linear processes…in the (now past) Industrial era?

15-Global ChallWe are now inter-connected components in a “Knowledge Economy”, existing in the Digital Age. The most successful Complex systems are those with an interdependent Operational Structure to “support” the effective exchange of information.

Even when unseen, we now appreciate the importance of effective information-flow within and among networks of systems. Although I vaguely recall reading that this isn’t a direct quote from Charles Darwin (I am happy to leave others to investigate that) THE message is clear. He wasn’t talking about organizations per se but he was talking about biological systems:

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change. In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.

Yeah we ALL know how tough trading is in the current climate! So, why exacerbate the problem by failing to observe information from the environment?

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