- Xmas 2017: Introduction: Characteristics of A Complex System
- Wicked problem: A problem that is difficult or impossible to solve
- Unintended consequences: Outcomes we didn’t forsee
- Suboptimization: When you optimize the parts, you make the whole system worse
- Disruption is rooted in life itself…Life’s essence lies in accidents and interruptions, in conflict and tension.
Complex Systems Are Not Machines
If I were to ask most people if they thought their pet dog or cat was a machine, they would likely say “no”. I certainly agree with this having had, now, 5 dogs over the years. Most people get that the larger world does not consist of a bunch of machines.
But….We continue to try to solve problems by using models that are based on machines. We describe the problem we are trying to change as though it were isolated, like a broken part in a machine. Our problem solutions are all of the sorts, “This is what is broken; we can put a new part in place of the broken part. That will take care of the problem”.
This approach doesn’t work for complex systems like our society any better than it works for your pet. Every time we replace the “broken” part with a new one, we create new problems over time, called “unintended consequences”.
The unintended consequences are experienced as new problems, entirely separate from the one we “solved” earlier, so we try to replace those new broken parts as well. And so on……..
Because we focus on fixing parts, we keep making new problems for ourselves. Worst of all, we think we are actually improving the system by fixing the part.