Edgeware - Principles


Applying principles

View your system through the lens of complexity.

In addition to the metaphor of a machine or a military organization

Unleashing people

A leap into uncertainty
Emerges fromthe fabric
What we could be doing
Another way to think
Worldwide complexity
Learn as you go






The predominant metaphor used in organizations today is that of a machine. Almost equally popular is the metaphor of a military operation. If an organization is a machine, then we simply must specify the parts well and make sure that each part does its part. If an organization is a military operation, then command, control and communication needs to be hierarchical; survival is key; and sacrificial heroes are desired (although no one really wants to be one themselves). Most of today’s organizational artifacts – job descriptions, rank-and-file employees, turf battles, strategic plans and so on – emerge from these largely unexpressed and undiscussed metaphors. If you buy into these metaphors, then the traditional actions of management make sense and should work.

"All theories of organization and management are based on implicit images or metaphors that lead us to see, understand and manage organizations in distinctive yet partial ways … the use of metaphor implies a way of thinking and a way of seeing that pervade how we understand our world … One of the most basic problems of modern management is that the mechanical way of thinking is so ingrained in our everyday conceptions of organization, that it is often very difficult to organize in any other way."

The basic problem with these metaphors when applied to a complex adaptive system is that they ignore the individuality of agents and the effects of interaction among agents. Or worse, they simply assume that all this can be tightly controlled through better (read: more) specification. While there are many situations for which the machine and military metaphors might be useful – for example, routine surgical processes – there are also many situations for which these metaphors are grossly inadequate. When we view our system through the lens of complexity, we take on a new metaphor – that of a CAS – and, therefore, are using a different model to determine what makes sense for leaders to do.

Viewing the world through the complexity lens has been a marvelously stress-reducing experience for the health care leaders in VHA. Many have come to see that the massive sea of changes that they have experienced and agonized over recently – the failed Clinton health care reform plan, the rise of managed care, the AIDS epidemic – are natural phenomena in a complex adaptive system. Such things will happen again, each will leave its mark on the health care system. Predicting when and where the next one will come is futile. Learning to be flexible and adaptable is the only sustainable leadership strategy.

"To see life as a whole - to observe what all life has in common - requires a shift in the way we normally look at things. We must look beyond the individual insect or tree or flower and seek a more panoramic perspective. We need to think as much about process as we do about structure. From this expanded viewpoint, we can see life in terms of patterns and rules. Using these rules, life builds, organizes, recycles and recreates itself."

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All Components of Edgeware Principles Copyright 2001, Curt
Lindberg, Complexity Management, VHA Inc. Permission to copy for educational
purposes only. All other rights reserved.