Edgeware - Principles


Tune your place to the edge.

Foster the "right" degree of information flow, diversity and difference, connections inside and outside the organization, power differential and anxiety, instead of controlling information, forcing agreement, dealing separately with contentious groups, working systematically down all the layers of the hierarchy in sequence and seeking comfort.

Another way to think
Power of information

At Home



Non-linear dynamics

Wicked Questions
Stacey matrix
Generative relationships

Theoretical studies of complex adaptive systems suggest that creative self-organization occurs when there is just enough information flow, diversity, connectivity, power differential and anxiety among the agents. Too much of any of these can lead to chaotic system behavior; too little and the system remains stuck in a pattern of behavior.

Again, we can look to biological sciences for a dramatic illustration of this principle. Dr. Ary Goldberger is a cardiac specialist at Harvard Medical School who has done much research in the role of complexity in physiologic systems such as the beat-to-beat record of a healthy heart. It shows an irregular, wrinkly appearance – not a smooth, regular tracing. Furthermore, when this tracing is magnified, there is even more wrinkly detail. This complex pattern of irregular fluctuations is a fractal. Surprisingly, if you were to view an equally detailed heart-rate tracing of a patient before cardiac arrest, you would probably not see more chaotic activity, as you might expect, but rather virtual consistency and regularity. Thus, predictable and regular activity can lead to a heart attack; unpredictability and fractal (chaotic-like) variability are associated with health and stability. (Note that this pattern can also be observed in other biological systems: in sleep, chaotic patterns have been shown to produce restful sleep and extreme regularity may indicate a coma; and in muscles, chaos indicates healthy functioning and stability indicates seizure or degenerative disease.)

Of course, the trick in a human CAS lies in gauging the “right” amount of information flow, diversity, connectivity, power differential and anxiety among the agents. Since the predominant metaphors of organizational life are those of a machine and military operation, most organizations today have too little information flow and diversity, and too much power differential. The degree of connectivity and anxiety can go either way. This is a general observation that could of course be different in any specific context. If you are in a CAS, you will have your own mental model about such things, as will the other agents in the system.

stuck at the edge of chaos

Since the detailed behavior of a CAS is fundamentally unpredictable, there is no way to arrive analytically at an answer for what amount of information flow, diversity, connections inside and outside the organization, power differential and anxiety among the agents is proper.

You can have more- or less-correct intuitions, and some sense of general direction, but that’s inherently the best you can do. You’ll just have to try tuning up or down the various factors and reflect on what happens.


Reflection is, therefore, a key skill for anyone in a CAS. Good leaders in a CAS lead not by telling people what to do, but by being open to experimentation, followed by thoughtful and honest reflection on what happens.

"At the ideal number of connections, the ideal amount of information flows between agents, and the system as a whole finds optimal solutions consistently … which in a rapidly changing environment allows the whole to persist."

"Living systems are very close to the edge of chaos phase transitions where things are loose and fluid … Systems that are most adaptive are so loose they are a hairbreadth away from [being] out of control."

"The emphasis on managing long-term specific outcomes is completely misplaced. They cannot be managed, but it is possible to influence control parameters...managers still need strategic plans; however, they relate not to outcomes and actions to achieve them, but to methods of affecting anxiety, power, difference, and connectivity."


Next | Previous | Return to Contents List

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