Enterprise Architecture & Complexity Theory

Author: Alex Matthews – Twitter: @remembermytweet
“Complexity theory predicts that we cannot rely on predictions.”

This post is a series of excerpts from the following brilliant presentation on Complexity Theory. The presentation includes an intriguing discussion of abstractions and models, their role in sense-making, their value and some of the problematic aspects of models and abstractions.

Quotation Extracts

“Where to draw a boundary around a system depends on the questions we want to ask.” – Donella H. Meadows

“Complexity theory does not embrace the radical holism of systems theory, the notion that everything matters and everything has to be taken into account.” – Steve Phelan noting that enterprises are complex systems.

“The systems movement […] has come to form the foundation of today’s dominant management discourse, so importing the engineer’s notion of control into understanding human activity” (ed. – clearly a risk)

“The usefulness of a model depends on the complexity of the mind and of the environment.”

“Dependence, and addiction arise when a solution to a systemic problem reduces (or disguises) the symptoms, but does nothing to solve the underlying problem.”

“Hard systems thinking is unable to deal satisfactorily with multiple perceptions of reality. […] Different stakeholders will have diverse opinions about the nature of the system they are involved with and about its proper purposes.”

Complicated is not complex: “Analysis works in complicated cases (plic in complicated means “fold”), but the interweavings (plex) of the complex do not yield to reductionist analysis or to a concentration on details.” – Michael L. Lissack

“If a system is to be stable the number of states of its control mechanism must be greater than or equal to the number of states in the system being controlled.” Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety. (See also our page of Fun-damental Laws)

“Multiple weak models can make just as much sense as one strong model.”

See also the Enterprise Advocate’s post on Enterprise Architecture & Systems Thinking

Complexity Thinking


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Enterprise Architect