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.