The Resilience Proposition of the Minimum or ‘How to neutralise complexity’

I’m preparing a new article on complexity and I wanted to share a preview of the direction I am taking.  This has been brought about through the work I have been doing with organisations in the US and Middle East and was produced as a keystone tenet to primarily explain the value adding role of human resources in the complex domain.

In agriculture there is a simple law for growth, ‘Liebig’s Law of the minimum‘.  The law basically states that growth is not dependent on the total resources available, but on the scarcest resource.

The same could be said for organisations looking to neutralise the effects of complexity (where ambiguous, interconnected and interdependent systems can bring about an unexpected contagion that can infect system – banking crisis, as the most obvious example).  We know that individuals and organisations experience complexity via connectedness, interdependence, ambiguity and diversity.  Technology speeds up connectedness, feeds diversity and acts in a reciprocal cycle (via innovation) to truncate product/service life-cycles.  This brings about a need for immediacy in recovery/reinvention, which is determined by the individual/organisation’s capacity to act (adaptive capacity, brought about by dynamic and agile capability).  This itself is informed by the knowledge, skills, behaviours and technology available to fight the contagion that has entered the system.

This led me to adapt Liebig’s law to produce a ‘Resilience Proposition of the Minimum’, which is captured in the diagram and statement below.  I would love to hear thoughts on this and, as always, please feel free to email me (david@theknowledgecore), if you do not feel comfortable posting in the blog.

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  • Glenn Behenna

    Hi David, I thoroughly enjoyed your article in so many ways. It rings true for me and sums up the interconnectedness of things (a bit of a double edged sword). You have a gift with the word : – ) Best wishes, Glenn

  • Irshaad

    Hi David ,Your article resonates for me. To add to this the issue of Leadership comes up in that what type of leadership is required to deal with neutralising complexity. A good though provoking article.

  • http://blog.jackvinson.com Jack Vinson

    Isn’t this saying what the Theory of Constraints people have been saying? The system is limited by the constraint. The challenge for many organizations is that they have no idea what that limiting resource is… Or am I too stuck in my own frame of reference here?

    • http://knowcademy.com David Griffiths

      Hi Jack, thanks for the feedback and sorry it has taken a couple of days to come back to you….currently flying back from the US.

      The difference for me is that here we do know what the potential limiting resources could be (knowledge, skills and behaviours) and, if we can agree, then we have to look to map the competencies that underpin dynamic/agile behaviours in organisations (though I admit that they have often have to be identified and mapped – but even here we often know the competencies we need to promote (core and differentiating)) – thus expediting recovery/reinvention in the organisaiton. Also, the constraint is not limited by the total resources in the system, but by the limiting resource, which, again, I believe is frequently missed when developing preventative measures in the face of complexity. I have found that the resilience proposition, coupled with other work I have been doing to identify the impact of complexity upon organisations, and appropriate responses, linked to the ability to act (dynamic/agile/adaptive human resources) and market value, just makes sense – to say nothing of the rigour of the underpinning theory that supports it.

      • http://blog.jackvinson.com Jack Vinson

        Interesting. There has been a conversation on one of the TOC boards that relates to this. Is a limitation in knowledge/skills/behaviors a true constraint to the business, or is it something else? People try to make a distinction between capability and capacity to help in this conversation, but they are strongly linked. From my perspective, I like to ask “what are we trying to get done?” What is the goal of the project? What are we selling? And then look for the things that limit our ability to get that done. That’s where the focus should be – which I think agrees with what you are saying here.

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  • Tim Wright

    David, In the interest of debate I offer tow points. One – why would you seek to neutralize complexity? It is what it is. You mention the banking crisis which IMHO was a chaotic situation brought about by a failure to recognize they operated in a complex environment and adopting behaviors for a simple environment in an effort to commoditise and drive down transactional costs. Its not a result of complexity, its is a function of behavior inappropriate for complexity.

    Secondly – constraint is a good thing in a complex environment it can lead to innovation

    • http://knowcademy.com David Griffiths

      Hi Tim…

      Complexity requires a response and, therefore, in order to neutralise the impact of increased connectedness, interdependence, diversity, and the byproduct of ambiguity, there are limiting knowledge skills and behaviours that are required. In terms of your banking crisis example, well, the debate rages on, but tight coupling and a lack of critical thinking have also been widely reported as underpinning reasons for the disturbance/trauma. Here I would agree with your final comment, “it is a function of behaviour inappropriate for complexity”, which is the exact point I am making with my statement on limiting knowledge, skills and behaviours (being required to respond to the environment the banks were transacting in). Forgive me, but I do not quite get where you are coming from in your second point on ‘constraint’, in relation to my proposition.

      All the best,

      D.

  • Tim Wright

    David,

    Thanks for the response. Lots of forgiving going on in that you must forgive me for saying why does “complexity require a response”? I go back to my original point why would you want to neutralize complexity? Are you suggesting complexity is in itself a bad thing? It is surely, as you seem to acknowledge in relation to your follow up on the banking crisis, a function of how one behaves, but the behavior is not to decrease complexity – which I would suggest is not possible – but to behave appropriately in the circumstance. I have written elsewhere on this in the context of tolerance of ambiguity and an adaptive response to complexity in corporate resilience planning where enhanced connectivity, diversity and interdependence are seen as assets.

    On the banking crisis – of course lack of critical thinking meant a lack of recognition of a complex environment, and interdependence is a common feature of complexity so I see no contradiction or inconsistency in my original assertion, in fact I think your points bear it out.

    On the point regarding constraint my suggestion is that constrained resources in a complex environment can be harnessed to generate innovation which is generally a good thing and is essentially where knowledge is displayed.

    But then perhaps we are at crossed purposes :o)

    Best
    Tim

    • http://knowcademy.com David Griffiths

      Tim, thanks for clarifying…

      I think this is perhaps more a point of discourse, in terms of my use of the word ‘neutralise’. Also, I don’t think I have ever stated that complexity is a bad thing, more a phenomenon that requires better understanding.

      To clarify, I believe that in developing responses to complexity, individual, organisational or societal, it is possible to neutralise the impact of the phenomenon, which, if left unattended, will reach a tipping point with an outcome being a loss of value – we can argue my use of the verb, but it is how I describe what I see as an action-based response to the presenting challenge. I also believe that complexity can be reduced, not eradicated, in context; as Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.” I have no problem with your views on tolerance of connectedness, interdependence, diversity and ambiguity, but perhaps I am more focused on how that tolerance translates to action (the ability to act, in my opinion, being key to developing/surfacing asset value). My point being that in order to be dynamic/agile/adaptive (a necessary position if the individual/organisaiton/society is to develop tolerance for complexity) then there has to be appreciation for enabling competencies and the constraints upon ‘tolerance’ by limiting knowledge, skills and behaviours. I also don’t disagree with your assertion that constraints can bring about innovation. However, constraints, or what I see as limitations, will influence the speed of recovery/reinvention, which could have a significant impact upon individual/organisational/societal competitive advantage or asset value.

      Cheers,

      D.

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  • http://fitforrandomness.wordpress.com David G Wilson

    I get it David and there is plenty of scope for discussion on such complex(!) issues…another day.

    It is fair to say that, for a complex system to perform the functions for which it was designed, requires the requisite complexity. Dynamic processes that are no more complex or simple than is required [Occam, Einstein, etc.]: problem-solving capabilities.

    Ambiguity is a source of excessive complexity and business managers/leaders seem incapable of recognising let alone halting this [you may wish to consider impact of Gresham's Law/Moore's Law] and well-intentioned attempts to “manage” associated risks without an understanding of interconnections [Ashby's Law] has unintended consequences that, without an insight into the interactions, only become apparent in outcomes…by which time irreversible damage may have been done. Courtesy of the Butterfly Effect even relatively small “errors” can have a major impact.

    Hope this is helpful!?

    David

    • http://knowcademy.com David Griffiths

      Hi David… Thank you for the feedback – I agree, much of what you say informed the core of my PhD and the development of KM practice and diagnostic models. Also the K3 consulting approach and K-Core model were founded on Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety… the problem, from my perspective, has been how to explain the role of limiting resources within complex management environments, which is where this proposition comes in.

      I Would love to chat some more, maybe offline, about your views on discrete interactions – I have attempted to prove, using fractal analysis, that it is possible to identify the nodes, as well as their connectedness, in a complex system; though the connections, from the perspective of the whole, still remain too sophisticated to map. You can overcome some of this by looking at systems via a modular lens (isolating functions), such as knowledge generation in KM, through which it is possible to trace and predict the outcome of connections (e.g. variations on Revan’s P+Q=L or P+Q+R=L) in a complex system.

      Thanks for the input… good stuff

      D.

      • http://fitforrandomness.wordpress.com David G Wilson

        You are most welcome David! Obviously my focus has been the financial sector, hence this extract from a recent blog

        THE QUESTION FOR INSURERS AND BANKERS must be:

        Why rate RISK on [subjective; probability-based; reflexive] predictions of the unpredictable, when it is the business systems’ RESILIENCE: ability to absorb the impact of possible and probable future events, that can be [objectively] measured, monitored, ‘scenario-tested’, rated and managed (if necessary in real-time), that will determine the extent of any resultant loss?

        Pasted from

        These on-line demo’s (below) will, HOPEFULLY, provide some “hope” for you, in relation to identifying and mapping multiple inter-connections within a complex system: as well as measuring the integrity of the interactions, revealed through “nodes and hubs” (in information-flow) of the problem-solving processes that underpin system function. Measuring has to be the starting point for monitoring [causal relationships], managing complexity [avoiding unintended consequences], maintaining resilience within safe/pre-determined levels and, meaningful, scenario planning – for sustainability.

        The main Ontonix website and our Rate-A-Business, on-line solution should provide further insight but I would also recommend reading “A New Theory of Risk & Rating” (by Ontonix Founder, Dr Jacek Marczyk).

        Business Intelligence: 
        http://www.rate-a-business.com/?function=ReadObf&obf_path=ardocCM/files/4/file/SME_EN.obf 

        Engineering: 
        http://www.design4resilience.com/?function=ReadObf&obf_path=ardocCM/files/5/file/Example_D4R_CAE.obf 

        Happy to exchange ideas and to have a chat. But please have a “play” with the demo’s and on-line tools.

        David

      • http://knowcademy.com David Griffiths

        Interesting… I am in the US at the moment, talking to CPAs about risk, Integrated Reporting, eco-finance and complexity/resilience in practice within the profession…we really do need to have a chat at some point.

      • http://fitforrandomness.wordpress.com David G Wilson

        Feel free to get in touch!

  • http://fitforrandomness.wordpress.com David G Wilson

    Reblogged this on Get "fit for randomness" [with Ontonix UK] and commented:
    “In agriculture there is a simple law for growth, ‘Liebig’s Law of the minimum‘. The law basically states that growth is not dependent on the total resources available, but on the scarcest resource”.

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