Subject: CAS for the layperson
Date: Friday 7th August 2009 00:26:13 UTC (over 8 years ago)
[continued from post 40444 <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/scrumdevelopment/message/40444> ] I have a sense that the subject of Complex Adaptive Systems is very relevant to the Scrum Development list, and I'd hate for people here to be turned away from the ideas because (perhaps like me) they are intimidated by the language of science, and the protective stance that is sometimes taken around pure theoretical ideas. Human organizations are by their inherent nature, complex. Therefore CAS topic is a good topic to help us explore how we personally work within such systems. For me, learning about CAS opened my mind to understanding organizational dynamics, and gave me some insight into why change initiatives so often fall apart. It has been a couple of years since I read anything on CAS so I was willing to accept I had some of the concepts wrong, but having done some refresher reading I don't actually think I was too far off, in a metaphorical sense -- in the context that interests me. My focus has been on how the ideas from CAS theory have been adopted by organizational development researchers and developers to explain patterns of behaviour in organizational culture and suggest ways that organizations can better meet the demands of fast-changing markets. Essentially, an organization is considered a complex system. It is complex because it is driven by forces and variables (including the humans within) whose behaviour cannot be predicted. It becomes an adaptive system under certain conditions. Many organizations are not adaptive, they seek and find equilibrium and use dampeners such as negative feedback to help them stay there. There is a misconception that organizations can be run along mechanistic lines. There is a second misconception that organizational stability is good. Organizations that hold this belief tend to stagnate and eventually die. In the domain of organizational culture, a system is considered adaptive when it attempts to move away from equilibrium, and tend towards chaos. Usually the dampeners that are in place don't allow this movement to go very far, which is why we see a reversal to old behaviour as soon as a crisis hits. This is useful to know. Most big organizations tend towards stability, and it takes some great force to change that. That force may be something that is being called a strange attractor. The tendency to safety is undermined when strange attractor is introduced. The term strange attractor --in the domain of organizational development-- has been applied both to people (usually strategic leaders) and to the forces that are generated from the presence of such people, e.g. a shared vision, or a sense of grass-roots empowerment. These attractors move the system away from equilibrium, swiftly and the normal dampeners become insufficient to prevent the movement. This is very all very relevant to Scrum, as Scrum is part of the change mechanism, part of the different thinking required by organizations to be able to move away from safety and into new ways of being. The introduction of Scrum could in itself act as a strange attractor. Having a single person on a team challenge the way work is done in an organization (e.g. a "fool") could also have that effect. If this description doesn't match scientific/mathematical understanding of CAS I am okay with that. And I don't think it is an abuse of the term, nor is it pseudo-science. It is the re-casting of a set of ideas into a context that can make practical use of it. Personally, I like that. An excellent book that offers both theory and real-world examples of how CAS thinking works inside big organizations is Surfing the Edge of Chaos <http://www.amazon.com/Surfing-Edge-Chaos-Nature-Business/dp/0609808834> by Pascale, et al. Here also are a few papers and articles that may be of interest to Scrum practitioners: Storytelling, time, and evolution: The role of strategic leadership in complex adaptive systems <http://bit.ly/3Uuk13> <http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6W5N-4NX2VP6-\ 2&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_acct=C\ 000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=35647a67412c1080f390d9\ 4a2675e25b> Strange Attractors and Human Interaction: Leading Complex Organizations through the Use of Metaphors <http://www.complexityandeducation.ualberta.ca/COMPLICITY2/documents/Com\ plicity_21f_Gilstrap.pdf> The Plexus Story <http://www.plexusinstitute.org/about/plexus_story.cfm> Sorry for such a long post. My next one will be 140 characters :-) Tobias PS as an aside, Georges Boole invented Boolean algebra long before there was any real application for the theory. He may have been appalled to see his perfect ideas applied to something so commonplace as computer programming. Then again, he may have been delighted.