Fritjof Capra on structure and emergence

I’ve been having a nice email exchange with Steve Moore of ICE3 who quoted Fritjof Capra to me:

Human organisations always contain both designed and emergent structures. The two types of structures are very different but every organisation needs both kinds. Designed structures provide the rules and routines that are necessary for the effective functioning of the organisation… Designed structures provide stability. Emergent structures, on the other hand provide novelty, creativity and flexibility. They are adaptive, capable of changing and evolving. In todays complex environment purely designed structures do not have the necessary responsiveness and learning capability. They are deficient in learning and changing and therefore likely to be left behind. There is always tension between the organisations designed structure which embody the relationships of power and the emergent, structures which represent the organisations aliveness. The central function of future leadership is to create harmony between the two

It’s a great quote.

One of the things that Improv work points to is the paradox of structure and freedom. People often see these as being polarised opposites: a slight challenging of rules is seen as threatening anarchy; or the creation of some standard procedures gets stygmatised as bureaucratic.

It actually turns out these are enfolded in each other. Set up a game (here’s one I described a while back) and people start testing the rules. They often unconsciouly invent some new rules of their own. They see how far they can go within the rules. Generally, they kind of stick to the rules but find ways to do unexpected things within them (A bit like how we used to have industrial disputes where workers disrupted business by the deliberate and clever rigidity of “working-to-rule”)

Take the rules away completely, however, and there is no game. It’s like there’s no space within which to experience freedom. I suppose innovative companies are the ones that somehow balance order and chaos dynamically.

If, however, you try too hard to codify what innovative companies do, you create some new rules which themselves will be tested, broken, improved, transcended by the next innovative organisation.

I think this is why Buddhists say if you meet Buddah on the road, kill him. And why for me, the best bit about “best practice” is the word practice – as in keep trying stuff, and keep learning.

This is the sort of thing I’m writing about in my chapter for More Space.

2 thoughts on “Fritjof Capra on structure and emergence

  1. All things Bru

    Structure and Emergence

    Johnnie’s blog is always a source of inspiration. This is from a couple of days ago, about structure and emergence in organizations: Set up a game and people start testing the rules. […] Generally, they kind of stick to the rules but find ways to do …

    Reply

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