complexity rules

  1. We live and work in a complex system. Simple, traditional linear models do not work in complex systems.

  2. Campbell’s Law is a real thing – people change their behavior to meet targets. These ‘corruption pressures’ often have unintended consequences.

  3. Unintended consequences are often negative like the Cobra Effect – things are far worse than when you started. —What’s the Pont? 2020

What happens when you release controls?

“The book [No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention] describes how Adam Del Deo, director of original documentary programming at Netflix, mulled his next moves in the bidding war for Icarus, which had just screened at the Sundance Film Festival. With the price threatening to rise to unprecedented heights for a documentary, Del Deo reached out for guidance to Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos. Instead of an executive decision, Sarandos simply told Del Deo to pay what he thought the movie was worth. If he believed Icarus would be a massive, award-winning hit for Netflix, an unheard-of amount of money could actually be a bargain. In the end, Netflix paid US$4.6 million for Icarus — and the film broke ground for the company by winning a ‘Best Documentary Feature’ Oscar in 2018.” —How Netflix Finds Innovation on the Edge 2020

Complexity is not complicated, nor linear — “In complex systems, the last thing that happened is almost never informative about what’s coming next.”

“Learning changes an agent’s behaviour, which in turn changes the behaviour of the system. Take a firm that fudges its numbers on quarterly earnings reports, or a high-school student who spends all her time studying specifically for a college-entrance exam rather than developing the analytical skills the test is supposed to be measuring. In these examples, a metric is introduced as a proxy for ability. Individuals in the system come to associate performance on these metrics with shareholder happiness or getting into college. As this happens, the metric becomes a target to be gamed, and as such ceases to be an objective measure of what it is purporting to assess. This is known as Goodhart’s Law, summarised by the business adage: ‘The worst thing that can happen to you is to meet your targets.’” —Aeon: Complex Systems Science 2020

Humans have the ability to deal with very complex things, yet too often our cultural and organizational barriers block us from using these innate abilities. We try to game the system, instead of trying to understand the underlying principles of the system. We have to watch for and comprehend connections and the flows of ideas and knowledge. It’s a complex, entangled world we live in, even though the past century was an attempt to ignore this. We can’t do that any longer.

“As we are becoming more entangled with our technologies, we are also becoming more entangled with each other. The power (physical, political, and social) has shifted from comprehensible hierarchies to less-intelligible networks. We can no longer understand how the world works by breaking it down into loosely-connected parts that reflect the hierarchy of physical space or deliberate design. Instead, we must watch the flows of information, ideas, energy, and matter that connect us, and the networks of communication, trust, and distribution that enable these flows.” —The Long Now Foundation 2019-12-26

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