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A Theory of Complexity and its Relevance to Better Decision Making (by Denis Hicks)

Understanding the origins of Complexity would help managers develop better decision making processes under conditions of Social Complexity and Uncertainty.

One approach is to appreciate how the mind works to determine when it is operating under complex conditions. Recent discoveries in how the mind makes sense of its environment indicate that it operates under conditions of uncertainty almost all the time. It has a limit to the number of concepts it can handle simultaneously and uses limited amounts of data. In order to reach conclusions in a timely manner, the mind has evolved a series of heuristics and biases that work subconsciously such that we are rarely aware that they are functioning. The mind should be regarded more as a 'pattern recognition engine' than a logical device.

By realising this it is possible to identify potential weaknesses in management decision processes. If these weaknesses can be addressed, it should be possible to improve the quality of decision making.

The paper proposes some concepts that may be useful in understanding how the mind functions to indicate the point at which the principals of Social Complexity and Uncertainty become relevant. It suggest ideas on how decision making in such situations can be made more robust.

Read the article and discuss ...


By Arkadiusz Chadzynski, over 1 year ago

Hi Denis. I think that the answer to (1) is in creating more transparent and collaborative environments. One of my friends gives trainings in NVC (Non Violent Communication) for businesses According to her, this could bring good results as well. Changing language can eliminate conflicts within teams. (2) From my experiences, when the problems become too complex for teams to manage, members usually stop collaborating and try to hide in individual 'pidgin holes'. When combined with team leadership behaving similar way, it leads to obviously counterproductive and counter-effective strategy for a team as a whole. I am not really sure, how to answer to (3). There seem to be many reasons for this - starting from individuals, who lack team playing skills, members not fitting the team very well, individual aspirations or beliefs being different from those of the team, etc. Sometimes lack of communication and transparency could be a problem as well. It would be definitely good to have some tools or trainings increasing self-awareness and maybe sometimes better profiling of manages against the team as a whole. Management should 'fit' teams as well. Sometimes this aspect may be overlooked.

By Harold van Garderen, over 1 year ago

Hi Denis, thanks for this nice overview. I think there is a lot of valuable contents here. On the other hand the references are bit thin which make is hard to get a good impression on how much original research is in it and what comes from the literature. Can you comment on that?

On a second note. I seem to see that you didn't take the work from the 1930-1940's on general systems and (management) cybernetics and the macy conferences and other "systems" stuff into scope here. Is there a special reason for that?

By Arkadiusz Chadzynski, over 1 year ago

I enjoyed reading this article and agree with the general thesis of it. Understanding of that how mind works is quite important in management. One can very often find in anthropology theories that humankind is what it is due to teamwork and collaboration skills of out early ancestors. This gave them advantage in hunting and allowed to thrive across different environments globally, despite relatively weak physiological capabilities of a human body.

I would like to add one thing to that. Mind is constantly dealing with uncertainty at few different levels. It is good to split the field of uncertainty in the following way:

| 2 |
| _______________ |
| | | |
| | 1 | |
| |______________| |
| |

(1) It is that, what it is currently given and fully perceived. This includes sensual and intellectual perceptions. Understanding concepts and mathematical thinking are examples of the intellectual perception. Seeing, hearing, touching, etc. are sensual perceptions. There are inner emotional perceptions. There also perceptions of the states of others. This is the layer of actuality and immediate data. There is no place for any kind of uncertainty there. Everything is given and filled in, even if the filling in is making use of imaginative content.

(2) Is that what is anticipated to come next into the region 1 as we progress in time. This progression is fluent. The fluency is achieved by constant and silent projecting to the field. Those projections are made with high degrees of certainty. They are based on extrapolations of previous perceptions, learned models, heuristic thinking and various types of biases. Here fall expectations such as, that the thing, which is currently looked at and perceived, has got some other side (spatially), which could be immediately perceived, just by moving the object of perception around. Those are small and silent assumptions and approximations allowing to fluently pass from one perception to another one in the flow of the time. This happens even with perception of one and the same object. This ability of the mind actually gives identity to the object in its mental representations. Moreover, here mind can silently approximate and anticipate different possible continuations of the perceptual process and we will, generally, not get really surprised if only one of them, rather than any other gets realised at a time. One can say that, at this level we are already quite well adapted to naturally deal with uncertainty and complexity. Most of the work happens automatically.

(3) Is the open horizon of that what comes next after 2. This is the domain of actual thinking about the future or thinking about that what is present, but yet inaccessible to our perceptions. It has got highest degree of uncertainty. Predictions with regards to that may be also based on extrapolations made by applying various types of laws (like scientific ones). There is a place for heuristics, biases and models as well. But the work on it is much harder to automate and there is always something unexpected to deal with there.

Real value of teamwork consists of the fact that each team member has got slightly different 1s 2s and 3s at a given point in time. Team synchronises them and literally expands each team member's horizon in the process of communication and collaboration. My 1 can be someone else's 3, for instance. I may be located in a different place and may actually see different things, while reporting them to another person over the phone call, etc.

Humankind was able to successfully expand and hunt by collaboratively planning in the area of 3 and actually communicating that, what is happening to the other hunters in the group, even if the forest was dense, or they were hidden behind a rocks, so the hunted animal was not able to see them. This ability gives us advantage over the other species. Understanding how those things work has undoubtedly a great value. Aiding this with machine based intelligence, takes it even further and allows us to look deeper into the 3 with greater confidence at the same time. Maybe we could even risk saying that this open horizon is getting moved further away by the means of that. We are automating horizon expansions by offloading the work to the machines.

By Denis Hicks, over 1 year ago

Arkadiusz, thank you for your extensive remarks. They are a very interesting perspective of how individuals percieve, for themselves, the behaviour of the world. It is also interesting how teams can use this perspective to develop higher abilities.

Do you have any ideas or references on how (1) this understanding can be given to managers to increase their own self-conciousness on how to make team more effective, or (2) what happens when the team comes across probelms which are too complex for them to manage? or (3) under what circumstamces the teams simply do not 'gel' for whatever reason?
Since learning about the subject of Social Complexity and Uncertainty, I have increasingly developed the view that there must be (self-awareness) tools which can be developed to help managers in complex environments.
Thanks again for your remarks.

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