Wave Rider

I’ve just been reading Harrison Owen’s Wave Rider. He explores the notion that human systems are fundamentally self-organising with some interesting implications for how we view formal organisations.

He refers to the work of Stuart Kauffman a biologist interested in the origins of life. Kauffman suggests that order emerges naturally from chaos or as he puts it, “Order is Free”.

Owen riffs on Kauffman to suggest the following preconditions for this kind of emergence:

1. A relatively safe, nutrient environment

2. Diversity of elements – if the stew is homogenous, not much will change

3. Complexity of connection – if the elements will only fit together a certain way, self-organisation is less likely

4. Search for fitness – a better formulation of “survival of the fittest”. Life forms move towards a better fit within themselves and with their environment

5. Sparse prior connections. Self-organisation is difficult when everything is already organised.

6. On the edge of chaos. Self-organisation is less likely when the material to be organised is an intert blob.

Owen suggests that what works in nature is what works in human organisations – even though this will seem counter-intuitive to many of us.

2 thoughts on “Wave Rider

  1. Earl Mardle

    We should also avoid high levels of fitness for present conditions.

    If we consider the ecosystem as a terrain with a series of peaks representing niches, high levels of fitness correspond to residing nearer to the top of those peaks.

    When conditions change, those near the top of the peak will find it difficult to move down the fitness scale so they can move to new peaks that are not contiguous.

    We see it now in tropical mountain areas where biosystems that have evolved to take advantage of the cooler temperatures at higher altitudes are being forced up the mountain until they run out of mountain to climb. The option of moving down the mountain and over to the next one is not available.

    Those who are less perfectly fitted to a particular niche are nearer the lower reaches and have a greater chance of being able to migrate to new niches when the changes happen.

    The survival of the variably fitting rather than the most fitted.


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