Edgeware - Principles


Go for multiple actions at the fringes, let direction arise.

You don’t have to be "sure" before you proceed with anything.

Worldwide complexity
Learn as you go


Min specs
Stacey matrix

As we have already noted, in a CAS it does little good to plan the details. You can never know exactly what will happen until you do it. So, allowing the flexibility of multiple approaches is a very reasonable thing to do. Of course, such a flexible approach is unreasonable when we view the situation through the metaphor of a machine or military organization. A machine can work only one way, and an old-style military organization must follow procedures and regulations.

The science that supports this principle of CAS behavior comes primarily from the study of gene pools in evolutionary biology. David Ackley points outs that, “Researchers have shown clearly and unequivocally how populations of organisms that are learning (that is, exploring their fitness possibilities by changing behavior) evolve faster than populations that are not learning.” We do not think it strains the metaphor here to suggest that our managerial instincts to drive for organizational consensus around a single option might be equivalent to inbreeding in a gene pool. And we all know the kinds of dysfunction that inbreeding in nature can spawn. We are personally struck by the fact that even though the words “organization” and “organism” have a common root, we have learned to think about them in such remarkably different ways.

The fringes that we are referring to here are the issues that are far from the zone of certainty and agreement. Recall that we pointed out that it was not a question of the machine metaphor being wrong and the CAS metaphor being right, nor is it about throwing out clockware and replacing it with swarmware. Neither approach is inherently right or wrong; but either approach can be inappropriate and ineffective in a given context. The leadership skill lies in the intuition to know which approach is needed in the context one is in. The degree of certainty and agreement is a good guide.

"A healthy fringe speeds adaptation, increases resilience and almost always is the source of innovations."

However, when we do find ourselves in situations far from certainty and agreement, the management advice contained in this principle is to quit agonizing over it, quit trying to analyze it to certainty. Try several small experiments, reflect carefully on what happens and gradually shift time and attention toward those things that seem to be working the best (that is, let direction arise). These multiple actions at the fringes also serve the purpose of providing us with additional insights about the larger systems within which every system is inevitably buried.

A concrete example of this principle is the health care organization that is trying to come up with a new financial incentive plan for physicians. There are many options, with success and failure stories for each one. Therefore, we are far from certainty and agreement. Rather than meeting endlessly over it trying to pick the right approach, experiment with several approaches. See what happens, see what seems to work and in what context. Over time, you may find a right way for you, or you may find several right ways.

"Successful experiments can go a long way in creating a foothold in a new reality. In particular, they offer important insights on the feedback loops and defensive routines that sustain a dominant attractor pattern and what can be done to help a new one to emerge."


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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.