Edgeware - Aides




Aides for Complexity

Most people would call what we present here "tools" for complexity. Our problem with the word "tools" is that it conjures up a machine metaphor. Tools are reductionist in nature; discrete items that can be used in isolation. Tools are also inanimate things; not living and evolving items that are an extension of the person using them. Somehow, the word "tools" just did not seem appropriate to describe techniques that help us understand complex adaptive systems.

On the other hand, we do like the part of the tools metaphor that brings to mind such concepts as useful, practical, and helpful in moving forward in a situation. "What," we asked ourselves, "would you call a living thing that is useful, practical and helps you move forward in a situation?" Our favorite word from among those brainstormed was "aide" (with an "e" on the end). An aide is a living, co-evolving assistant; not a mechanical device. And that is precisely the metaphor we want you to have in mind as you use this material.


The Aides for Complexity described here do not come with rigid instructions. Rather, they should be used in ways that are as flexible and adaptable as the complex adaptive systems we are seeking to understand. There is no "right" way to use a particular aide, only ways that help in a given context and ways that do not help very much in that context.

You should also understand that an aide is an extension of yourself and the others you are working with. You, the others, and the aide itself are all elements of a complex adaptive system. It is therefore our intention only to explain the concepts behind the aide, give some guidance on its use, and provide some tips to accelerate your learning. Exactly how you use an aide will depend on you and your context. Experiment. Reflect. Learn. Allow the aide to co-evolve with you and your context.

The aides described in this section are only a starting point. We have selected them because we feel that they are the most generally useful and basic aides for the understanding of complexity. The many references in the Bibliography describe other aides that you will also find useful.




The minimum specifications for the aides included in this section are that:

  • they are ubiquitous; they have multiple uses.
  • we know of Tales that illustrate the use of the aide; that is, others have actually used them in real situations.
  • they are consistent with the emerging principles of complexity that we describe elsewhere in Edgeware.
  • they provide the user with a visual summary or memorable story that can become a part of the on-going context of a complex adaptive system.
  • they are likely to be new to most people.


Fifth Discipline

Tune To Edge

The last item in the minimum specs-likely to be new to many people-raises an important point. There are many other aides with which people are already familiar. We do not mean to say that complexity can only be understood through the use of exotic new methods. For example, brainstorming, a tool that nearly everyone knows, helps sustain diversity in idea generation and therefore helps a group stay further from equilibrium than it might otherwise be. Systems diagrams, popularized by Peter Senge and colleagues, are another familiar tool that obviously helps in the understanding of complex adaptive systems. The aides described here are additional aides. We are not suggesting that you discard what you already know.

How This Section is Structured

Each aide write-up follows roughly the same outline:    

The basic idea:

A 1-2 sentence description of the aide.     

Potential context for use:

Some thoughts on when the aide might be especially handy.     


More detail about the aide.    


Things to think about both before and after using the aide.    


Some quick stories that feature the use of the aide, or citations to longer stories in the Tales of Complexity section.    

Facilitator's Tips:

Some thoughts that may help you use the aide more effectively or avoid pitfalls.    


Additional descriptions, examples, applications, graphics, and so on that you will find helpful.

The Aides are in no particular order. You should read through them all and pick out a few to try in your immediate context. Reflect on what you learn and go on to pick a few more... or try the first ones again in a different context. Just keep reflecting and learning as you go.

We would recommend that before you use an aide, you should read through the Tales of Complexity cited for that aide. This will give you additional insight into how you might proceed.

Finally, we also suggest that you re-read this section and the associated Tales periodically. Your context and mental models will change over time. Something that might not have been meaningful to you when you first read it, might later stand out as a key point.

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