Reasonings about Complex Adaptive Systems

There are today many different definitions of what a Complex Adaptive System (CAS) is. This is kind of logical, since there are many, as well as many different CAS mentioned, which can be nature-made or man-made; the immune system, ant colonies, cities, markets, eco systems, the brain, organizations, etc. We can guess that there simply is time only to make research on the CASs within one's own domain and the methods developed, and no time to go cross-domain. But, without a common definition of what a CAS is and the different flavours there can be, the risk is high that we have unnecessarily slow advances of the field of complexity theory as a whole, in order to cover all different CASs, and their respective characteristics.

A minimalistic definition of a CAS, acceptable by most people in the field of complexity theory, would be something like: "Every complex adaptive system (CAS) has a history, and consists of adaptive heterogenous agents (elements) that have unpredictable interactions with each other, through some kind of communication, leading to an unpredictable emergence of the system as a whole."

Characteristics of a CAS, which are not fully clarified, are for example the existence of; a common purpose and the element's awareness of it, cause-and-effect, system boundaries, sensitivity to the initial condition, irreducibility (cannot reduce back to an earlier state), to state a few of them.

A good comparison with a man-made organization and its way of working is the nature-made ant colony, where some of the similarities are that there is a common purpose (WHAT) that need to be fulfilled and a way of working (HOW), with friendly agents interacting with each other, via some kind of communication, all in order to reach the purpose. But, the differences on the other hand, looking into more details for the HOW and the WHAT, are that the HOW in the ant colony, is built up from nature-made rules within the ant's DNA, which the ants are unaware of. The outcome when the ants doing the HOW, is a fulfilment of the WHAT, their own survival, which they also are unaware of. This means that they are unaware of the HOW+WHAT, i.e., unaware that it is all about their own survival as a specie. In an organization on the other hand, we need to know the WHAT, in order to understand our context, and from that develop the HOW, our way of working. This way of working consists of our man-made rules that we need to follow, but where the way of working also need to fulfil the science within the context.

This gives that these two CASs are very different from each other, when going into more details. This leads, for example to the conclusion that the ant colony can only fail due to external factors, a too fast changing environment. The reason that there cannot be failure due to internal factors, is because the needed science is built-in to the rules (HOW) that the ants come under, i.e., otherwise, if we reflect on it, there would not be any ant colonies. An organization on the other hand, can instead not only fail the common purpose due to external factors, but also fail due to internal factors, which in both cases are valid for any man-made system, including also non-complex systems like our man-made products (complicated). The reason is that our way of working will be mal-functioning, if it is not fulfilling the needed science, which means our Organizational Principles (OPs), regarding anthropology, logic and complexity theory.

Another way to say this is that when we are developing any man-made system, we must eliminate the transdisciplinary complexity in order to achieve a proper systems design for the system, where nature in the case of the ant colony, already  has eliminated the transdisciplinary complexity in that system. Not properly eliminating the transdisciplinary complexity for the way of working, will lead to poor efficiency, wrong effectiveness, bad quality, and in worst case a mal-functioning way of working. Reducing transdisciplinary complexity in man-made systems, is normally a highly iterative and complex process, but for a way of working, our System Collaboration Deductions will smoothly guide us to a flourishing organization.

For a deep-dive into the details about these reasonings, with more explanations, please look into this article.