The Minding Organization: Chapter 5

Chaos to Order to Chaos : Embracing Uncertainty

Chaos can be deliberate or emergent. When it is emergent, it is unexpected and may require anticipated action in the form of improvisation. Often, the emergent chaos is simply the result of a question that should have been asked in the beginning to avoid undoing and redoing what had been done already in progressing from chaos to order. We have then a choice between two general models: moving from deliberate chaos to emergent order or from deliberate order to emergent chaos.

chaos1The model of emergent chaos calls for problem-solving as problems emerge. The model of deliberate chaos calls for creating  chaos deliberately, up front, in the beginning by raising questions that may surface later, by focusing on problem seeking; identifying potential problems before they occur so that they can be eliminated, mitigated, or solved with adequate advanced preparation.  The models of chaos to order and order to chaos can be described as deliberate problem seeking, as contrasted with emergent problem solving. If we do more of the former, there will be less need to do the latter.  It also follows that the cycle time (that is, the time from the inception of an idea to its successful implementation), is shorter when we progress from deliberate chaos to order than when we proceed from an erroneous perception of order to emergent chaos.


From Order to Emergent Chaos

[tweaked to fit the plane model]Let us illustrate the model by an example. Consider the design of a new plane. We follow hypothetically the stages from inception of the idea to the release of the plane to the market, first with the model of order to emergent chaos.

The design department spends a few months on conceptual designs. Once they settle on a design, they send it to engineering. The engineers may ask questions about the shape because the flow of air around the plane may cause excessive drag, requiring a larger engine to maintain speed. The design may have to be undone and redone. New problems that emerge are settled and the engineering department proceeds with their own specifications and requirements. They then hand the design to manufacturing. At this stage, new questions and resulting problem emerge regarding manufacturing. These questions were not raise in the design and engineering phases. To deal with the manufacturing issues, the engineering and possibly the design may  have to be undone and redone. More time elapses, lengthening the cycle time. Next, suppliers of parts are brought in. Then, the assembly of a prototype take place. The assembly may bring to light new questions leading to the emergence of new problems that require more changes. Again, work must be undone and redone.  The cycle time to market continues to be delayed. Finally, the car is released to the market, with mechanics asking why it is so difficult to replace a broken washer. The answer lies partly in the fact the design was not perceived with a view for maintenance and repair.

From Deliberate Chaos to Order

Let us now follow hypothetically the stages from the inception of the idea to the release of market for the same idea using the model of deliberate chaos to order.  Representatives from design, engineering, manufacturing, assembly, finance, marketing, sales, suppliers, users, and any others that may be involved at some future time, such as maintenance and repair, are all brought together in the beginning to meet in one group.  The leader of the group outlines the general and possibly some what vague ideas. Questions may be raised for clarification and possible future elaboration. Next, the design group takes a few day to conceive a number of configurations, considering issues raised in the first meeting. A second meeting is called before the design department makes its choice, so that the designers are receptive to changes and open to input. While the designers are at work, all the group members are mobilized to look for ideas and possibilities, see problems before they emerge, and explore new ways in their areas of expertise.

Most creativity and innovation, the driving forces of productivity, lie in the minds of those closest to the work. When the alternative designs are presented to the group, issues in engineering, manufacturing, assembly, maintenance, repair, safety, customer perception of safety, comfort, and so on should all be raised. The discussion should focus on sharing perceptions. All is open and in a state of flux. If a member of the group thinks of something new or different when not in the meeting, it should be brought to the attention of the other members. As time goes on, the group coalesces and become a team bound by a common goal, and what is most important, more and more shared perceptions.  Each team member has a heightened perception of what he or she must do in the light of sharing (not filtering and blocking) the perceptions of the other team members. Problems are found and addressed more quickly than in the linear model of order to chaos, in which the activities are performed in sequence rather than in parallel, or concurrently. There is more chaos here, more experimentation and change occur at the beginning, fewer problems need to be solved, and fewer changes need to be introduced at the end when the cost in time, money , ego, and reputation (and in customers) is high.

Chaos3The thick curve shows that more effort expended early, on problem finding, results in less effort required for problem solving later on. This is the model of deliberate chaos to emergent order. The thin curve shows the results of a narrow focus on order early on and emergent chaos at the end. In this case, little effort is expended in the beginning on problem-solving effort at the end.

When changes are made early on, the cycle time to completion of a project shorter. Costs of change become higher later in the project. Therefore, the model of chaos to order is far superior to the model of order to chaos.

Relentless Improvement

The model of deliberate chaos to order is a single link, or time cycle, in a chain that keeps us moving from order to new chaos by choice, not by default or neglect.  Going from chaos to order and from order to chaos, and then from chaos to order all over again, as a way of life, is a commitment to relentless improvement. It is a commitment to lifelong learning. The model of relentless improvement represents a balance between chaos and order. We do not persist in either mode too long. We begin with deliberate chaos and move to reasonable order in the form of reasonable answers to our questions; however, we never close the door to new questions and potential improvement to the answer we already have. That is why the inclined lines in the figure do not converge and meet at a point at the end of cycle from chaos to order. The gap between the lines at the state of reasonable order is symbolic; it signifies that there is always room for improvement. As individuals, when we reach a certain stage of knowledge at the end of a learning cycle, such as the first course in a field, we move to the next cycle by taking the next course.


We discussed attitude to error earlier, but let us emphasize again that there is no learning without practice, without trail and error. It is important to realize, however, that errors are easier to fix and less costly in time, money, and frustration the earlier they occur in the cycles from the inception of the idea to its implementation. They cost the least at the stage of looking and seeing, more at the thinking and planning stages, and the most at the acting stage. Namely, the cost of error increases as we progress from chaos to order, and is very high at the final stage of perceived order.


In an organization committed to creativity and innovation, employees strive to make their present jobs obsolete and go on to new assignments that require new opportunities to move from chaos to order.

The Minding Organization: Chapter 4

Structure, Creativity, and Error: The Foundations of the Minding Organization


Hierarchies and Network

Organizations come into being with creativity and innovation, sparked by a network of people who have shared sense of purpose. They self-organize with no rules or procedures codified in a manual. There is neither a manual, nor is there any organizational hierarchy; everything is loose, evolving, and in a state of flux.  As the young organization grows and learns from experience what worked and what did not work, it begins to codify and institutionalize rules and procedures to guide people to do in the future what worked in the past. With this comes the assignment of authority, responsibility, and status to enforce the rules. This is the beginning of hierarchical structure.  Entrepreneurial conduct is displaced by bureaucratic structures,  which stifles creativity. Now, people have to bend the rules or go around the rules to find a network of supporters, collaborators, and champions of ideas, who are in many different places in the hierarchy.  A process of evoking new networks begins to take place.  Authority, responsibility, status, and compensation are not the criteria for centrality or key positions in the network. A key position might be held by the person who makes the appointment for the chief financial officer. By being linked to such a key person, you might get the timely appointment that opens the door to engaging a champion to support your new idea.

The informal network in the organization can promote change or stifle it; it can augment or disrupt the structure that the hierarchy is attempting to create.  Hierarchies are formal, explicit, rigid, guided by rules of ma manual, and bound by authority. Hierarchies are like trains moving on fixed tracks, making stops based on predetermined plans. Networks are informal, implicit, flexible, guided by rules of thumb, and bound by mutual trust. Networks are like taxis cruising the city, moving randomly through surface streets and making stop that are most unplanned.

Networks are more prevalent early, in the creative and innovative stags of a new undertaking, whereas hierarchies are more prevalent and useful when ideas are to be implemented in the market place.  A thriving, growing, renewing organization is one that learns to operate on the edge of chaos. Such an organization learns to maintain the delicate shifting balance between hierarchies and networks, the deliberately planned and the emerging, surprising, unplanned responses to a world marked by chaos and uncertainty

Creative Tension

Organization, by their very nature, require structure, order, and rules to function. This is contrary to the environment necessary to tap into human creativity. Chaos, flexibility, and looser framework are the requisite characteristics for developing fresh ideas and novel plans.  Unconventional ideas cannot be fostered in conventional organizations that are dominated by excessive structure. There is, then, a need for a new balance within organizations, which will nurture the creative thinking necessary for the organization’s survival, together with a framework that can respond to the more mundane, daily needs of the organization, which depend on structure an order.

Organizations must find a way to oscillate between chaos and order, a process that fosters creative thinking. Just as excessive order can stifle creativity, excessive chaos have its own pitfalls. Without closure to ideas, without a structure that can deliver a finished product, creative ideas float without direction. At some stage, the product must reach a customer who will have little or no knowledge about the creative process that fostered the development of the product but who will know when and where they want the product delivered. This aspect of organization demands structure and order, a bureaucracy that is responsible for the skeletal working of the organization.

Essentially then, we have two extremes: excessive structure, which stifles creativity, and excessive chaos, which may produce individual creativity but never produce the goods. This dichotomy results in mental creative tension most strongly felt by those within the organization who want to innovate.

The Pac-Man Story



There are four Pac-Men. Are they an organization? They certainly do not look like they are coordinating their efforts toward any common goal. They look more like a random collection of Pac-Men


Here, they are closer together, but they all seem to have their backs to one another and do not look they are on speaking terms. If someone were to walk into this type of organization, what would they think? Is this an organization with which you want to do business?


The Pac-Men are now aligned at least, and we can discern structure, but they are all doing exactly the same thing. How much added value does each Pac-Man contribute to the whole? Does this seem like an interesting stat-of-the-art organization? Does this structure create a vital, thriving organization?



Per the picture below, What figure immediately jumps to the forefront? The Pac-Men appears to form a square. The amazing aspect of their coordinated effort is the creation of a new entity, which in reality does not even exist – if you cover the Pac-Men with your hands, there will be no square. We see lines connecting the Pac-Men, despite the fact that there are no lines on the paper. The image is so forceful that the square appears to be brighter than the surrounding context, when in fact, even this is not so. What we perceive with respect to the square exists solely in our brains, and it is the result of our tremendous perceptual capabilities. Imagine yourself as the customer coming into this organization. The organization has created a structure that causes you to perceive a square. Thus, their efforts are toward your perceptions, and perceptions are the force of the future.

The appearance of the square depends on the effort of each individual Pac-Man; each must coordinate its effort with the two adjacent Pac-Men. The Pac-Men are able to create squares of various sizes; essentially, they can create custom-sized squares to fit the demand of individual customers, but they can only do so if they work as a team.  Likewise, there are limits and constraints on their productivity. If they move too far away from each other, the image of a square will disappear from sigh. The structure of the team is critical determinant of the success in this organization. We see, therefore, that the choice of internal structure determines the type of creative ideas the organization is able to produce. The structure must be flexible enough to maximize the contribution of each individual within the organization.


 Heightened Perception

With computer technologies taking over information processing and logical operations, the human brain must now move forward and upward by going back to what we humans do best  perceive acutely. Our powers of perception, our ability to enrich the potential meaning of information channeled through out senses, applying greater depth and breadth to the way we look and see, hear and listen, allows us to improve the quality and quantity of our ideas, thoughts and actions.

One of the most fertile grounds for developing alternative perceptions is conversation. The word conversation contains the root of the word for opposite, converse.  It comes from the Latin for turning around together. This is the essence of a conversation. Opposite views are articulated, and in the process, new insights are gained. To truly benefit from a conversation, we must enter the process with a readiness to listen and comprehend the perceptions of others, to understand the frame of reference regardless of how remote these are from our perceptions. To comprehend another point of view does not mean to accept it as superior to one’s own point of view. Mature, clear thinking is taking the time to give a new  perception a chance to be tested.

Although you may notice absolutely none of theses things, all are within everyone’s line of vision, but are not within everyone’s frame of reference.

What We Look For and What We See

The more flexible and rich our repertoire of ways of looking, the more fertile is the domain of what we see, and the more stimulated is our thinking.  Flexibility and richness in how we look can reduce the potential for errors of omission and errors of commission that attend a fixed way of looking with a rigid perception. A rigid perception acts as a filter. The filter rejects that which does not fit the model and accepts only that which does fit.

Strategies to Enhance Creativity in Organizations


Creativity thrives on diversity. Teams, working on projects requiring creativity, should comprise individuals panning a wide range of diverse interests, specialties, cultures, and talents. The more diverse the group, the richer and wider-ranging will be the conversations, and the more fertile the field for yielding creative ideas. Studies have shown that diverse groups take longer to get started, but they end up with much higher levels of creative and innovative ideas than homogeneous groups.  Homogeneous groups are more potent, effective, and quick to implement ideas and plans requiring habitual thinking. Heterogeneous, diverse groups are more powerful with the unplanned issues that require spontaneous thinking. These findings provide a strategy for organizations to create or plan an environment for both homogeneous and heterogeneous networks to emerge.


Embrace early on the full spectrum of opposites on the scales of issues, attributes, and measurement. For example, view positive and negative aspects of an issue. Consider a competitor as a potential ally, and consider an ally as a potential competitor. Consider a compliment whenever you have a reprimand in mind; perhaps you will use both. Opposites, conflicts, dichotomies, and paradoxes kept simultaneously in mind tend to trigger ideas that break out of the bondage of old contexts and create surprisingly new ideas. By embracing opposite, the familiar is made strange and the strange is becomes familiar.

Sharing Knowledge: The Global Organization Network

Becoming a part of such a network helps member organizations achieve the following

  • Leverage wisdom, knowledge, and skills
  • Leverage corporate resources, both human and financial
  • Provide early detection and awareness of trends
  • Promote self-renewal on a timely basis
  • Form business alliances and partnerships
  • Provide an unbiased arena to experiment with new ideas
  • Visit the future

Articulating Errors

The Hebrew word for sin is derived from the root of a word that means “missing the target.” If to sin is to miss the target, then to err is no more than target practice before the real contest takes place. Errors and mistakes are, indeed, target practice and continued experimentation in the quest for improvement. To learn from errors is imperative if we are committed to continued learning. Experience is not only to know what will work in a particular situation, but also to know what will not work. Errors provide the most profound opportunity to foster an environment of total amnesty, in which trust and mutual respect drive out the fear of mistakes and permit quick experimentation  with ideas in which all involved continue to learn.

Celebrate Failure

Learning is a function of trail and error. To err comes from the Latin, errare, meaning to wander off course, not in the wrong direction, but in a different direction from the anticipated path.  In the process of erring, phenomenal discoveries may be unearthed. WIsdom is the collection of experiences that teaches us not only what will work, but also what will not work. A healthy attitude toward error is a lucrative asset that creates a mind open to new opportunities. An error is a gap between what was anticipated and what actually resulted. The gap can be negative, so that the results are less than what was anticipated. The gap can just be easily positive, so that the results are more than what was anticipated. Either way, the difference must be thought through to maximize benefits by learning from what went wrong as well as what went right.

One way to foster a healthy attitude toward error is to treat failures the same way we treat success. We ought to celebrate failures! Our Western culture is partially responsible for the way most of us treat errors as a negative forces to be ignored or challenged.

This is not an attitude of “feel good, set no standards.” Some educators today feel that self-esteem is more important than learning; thus, they do not create challenges, to avoid failures. The attitude we are advocating is to embrace failures willingly and learn form them, and turning unanticipated outcomes into opportunities.

Children need to make their own mistakes to achieve maturity; an organization should also be allowed to learn  from its own mistakes. Just as the child must try and err to establish an identity, so must an organization challenge itself an learn from resulting gaps to identify itself. Every single person associated with the organization must be given the responsibility for learning. This is tantamount to declaring that every single person in an organization must be given the responsibility to be right but also the authority to be wrong.

Error, then, must be articulated, comprehended, related to past experience, and made part of the organization’s memory. People learn more when something goes wrong than when everything goes right. If there is one way to do something right, there are hundreds of ways to do it wrong. Refusing to recognize that errors are important to articulate is the single most damaging error one can make.

Errors as Organizational Strategy

The attitude toward errors and the articulation of errors are central elements in the creative process. Creative people handle errors in a way that enhances the creative process. Most people performing a difficult task tend to be careful, controlled, and wary of making errors. Creative people have the opposite predisposition to errors. When they are engaged in the creative process, they experiment freely through fields of possibilities that span the spectrum of scales of opposite. They look at the positive and negative aspects of an issue as different levels of manifestation of attributes. To the creative person, slavery and liberty are on the scale of freedom, with slavery representing very little of this attribute. Thus , they take chances with thoughts an ideas that almost invariably leads to errors, which means they wander off course. When errors appear, they do not result in paralyzing stress and frustration; to the contrary, they are integrated in to the creative process. Errors are articulated broadly and put into context, so that the errors can become a source of innovation.

The articulation of errors is an important strategy. The root of the word articulation stems from joint, such as a joint between limbs of the body or between the parts of speech that create sentences. An articulate speaker joins sentences together in way s that make a message coherent. The joint can both connect and separate the parts – hence, the power of articulating errors. The artist shaping a statute out of clay may squeeze and pull by error, only to be taken by surprise, and the become excited wit the emerging creation when random wanderings off the intended course is articulated and made part of the creation. A slip of the hands of the sculptor, the brush of the painter, or the error in the scientific laboratory, when articulated , can be joined and incorporated to innovate and invent. Error should become a strategic posture of the minding organization.




The Minding Organization: Chapter 3

Adapting and Planning

Complex systems cannot be studied by the time-honored scientific approach of breaking the system into its smallest components and studying them separately, then inferring total system behavior from the behavior of the separate parts.  This scientific approach, known as reductionism, fails to consider the most important aspect of complex system behavior. This aspect is the unplanned and undirected, spontaneous interaction of the components in the process of self-organization.  The interaction allows the system to adapt to a changing, uncertain, chaotic environment environment that cannot be fully anticipated as the future unfolds and becomes the present.

Adaptation is the central characteristic of complex systems that operate in part with no plan.


To adapt, we must position the system on the edge of chaos. Clusters of the system are given the authority to experiment, interact with other systems, go off on tangents, wander off course to explore what is out there, and falter many times before there is a big payoff resulting from spontaneous, breakthrough innovation.  This can be achieved in a system that has balanced the unplanned with the planned responses; a system which is flexible, unplanned , and chaotic enough to permit exploration, innovation, and adaptations, together with planned responses that are steady and orderly, but not to the point of a rigidly frozen state of order.

Organizations Plan Too Much

There is too much planning in organizations today. The metaphors of the past 30 years are not working. Half as much planning as is presently done will be more than enough for starters. Even the nature of the planned portion will have to change if we are to embrace a model of chaos and uncertainty in system behavior as the most suitable for adapting to a world characterized by chaos and uncertainty.  Long-range strategic planning has seen its heyday. We must learn to bring the future closer to the present and very often respond to events in real time as they unfold.  The majority, as many as two-thirds, of the organizations that have come into being in the last 10 years emerged quickly, with no long-range plan at all. They define self-organization in action.  These new creations were more of a result of innovative, creative thinking in which the future was brought into the present, rather than any particular planning. Obsessive planning parallels the obsession with centralized control. Both may lead to excessive rigidity with no room for adaptation.

Making a Half-Plan

An important message repeatedly surfaced regarding the human organism, and it is the basic message of our book. The minding organization as an organism must plan for the future 50%  and it must be ready to respond to the 50% that cannot be anticipated.

It is the unrehearsed, unplanned, new movement, thought, perception, language, and emotion that is produced by human beings that is the act of creating. Movement, thought, perception, language, and emotion stored by past experiences, training, and rehearsing, can be reproduced from the planned. We can safely conclude that human experience nearly always involves both the earlier stored part, which is reproduced, and the newly created part, which is produced.  The balance between the two varies. At the extreme, when we predominantly reproduce responses, there is a great deal of constancy, little surprise, and much repetition as time marches on.  We have the sterility of near-perfect order. On the other hand, when we predominantly produce new, varied, and unrehearsed responses, we are constantly surprised, because we never know what will come next. We have the visibility of near chaos.

On a daily basis we should act with the balance of the planned and unplanned responses. We all have a capacity for creativity. We also have the capacity for innovation – putting new ideas, our own and those of others, to practical use. How much creativity an innovation take place depends on how much tolerance people and organizations have for the unplanned. Highly ordered and planned organization stifle creativity and innovation. The emerging organization that embrace the chaos and uncertainty of the unplanned thrive on creativity and innovation. Such organizations are relentless in experimenting and improvising to constantly find better and simpler ways of adapting in an interactively linked universe of systems, at times competing and at times cooperating, in their quest to survive and thrive.

Entrepreneurial organization all start out with such seat-of-the-pants thinking and acting. Such young organization have few rules and much vision. The goal is to carve a niche for themselves and they actively seek new opportunities for growth.  Their willingness to adapt and change is strong because they have no stake in any preconceived way of doing things.  Gradually, however, as they become successful, organizational thinking loses its flexibility and becomes more fossilized. The company grows to have a stake in maintaining the status quo, with resources dedicated to its preservation. To thrive in an ever-changing world, and to keep up with entrepreneurial upstarts who would like nothing more than to replace them, organizations must reincorporate the attitude toward chaos that made them good to begin with.

The Tradition of long-range planning is losing its relevance. We must learn to embrace uncertainty and chaos, using flexible short-term plans that are based equally on uncertainty and chaos. A metaphor for the organizations of the past were the railroads with their fixed tracks, fixed stations for passengers to embark and disembark, fixed and closely monitored times of arrival and departure. The plan for operations was frozen, to eliminate the uncertainty of the unexpected to the extent possible. Order reigned supreme. This was the model that organizations tried to emulate in the past. The passengers of the railroad and the customers of like-minded corporations had to adapt to the plans of the respective organizations. You could go on a train any place, any time, as long as the place and time were in the plans predetermined by the railroad, just as you could alter get a Ford in any color you wanted, provided you wanted black.

A metaphor for the organizations of the future is taxis cruising the roads of major cities, looking to pick up passengers. Taxis cruise in a somewhat random manner, without fixed stations, and without fixed times of arrival and departure. Uncertainty, surprise, and the unexpected are the rule. Whereas the railroads have no traffic jams (in fact, traffic is stopped to let trains go through, to ensure that the plan is not disrupted), for the taxi traffic jams are a possibility, but then the taxi can adapt and use alternate surface roads, making just-in-time decisions as events unfold on the road. The taxi has some rules of conduct – fixed pickup location sin airports and hotels, traffic lights and laws that must be obeyed, and a taxi may have arrangements with some customers for fixed and regular pickup times. Even while cruising the city streets, the route taken by a taxi is not entirely random, because it follows a path that tries to match the randomness in time and place of potential passengers. Thus, some streets will have more taxis cruising, others fewer. As demand changes because of new office buildings and hotels, or the demolition of such buildings, the number and frequency of taxis cruising the streets change. Although the system has a communication center, scheduled maintenance, and other planned activities, it is a self-organization system to a degree. It embraces uncertainty, chaos, and the unexpected by adapting a flexible, random plan with a repertoire of responses that attempts to match the uncertainty and chaos of the world within which it operates. The organization of the future will embrace the metaphor of the taxi, in which uncertainty is a reality, and the need to perpetually adapt to new emerging realities is a way of life.

People Are the Real Assets

He suggests that successful efforts to adapt to change depend on individuals and their collective action, not on financial resources and corporate policies. Trust and respect are the driving forces that empower people to successfully adapt to change.

In the organization that is emerging, the real assets will not go home at night because they will not go to work in the morning; they will work wherever they are.

Self-Organization Sparks Creativity

One attribute of self-organizing systems is adaptation. The brain adapts to inputs from the environment, the body adapts to infection and injury, and organizations adapt to changing realities and market condition.

A second attribute of complex self-organizing systems is more amazing and illuminating. It appears that complex systems tend to position themselves at the boundary between operating in a stable fashion, based on a set plan, and at the same time responding with creativity and innovation to unplanned, unrehearsed, and unexpected developments that call for change, flexibility, and risk.  This boundary is the edge of chaos. Moving too far away from this edge toward the planned and stable, the system freezes and become sterile; moving too far toward the unplanned, the system collapses in chaos and disarray.

A third attribute of complex self-organizing systems has a most profound effect on the likelihood for adaptation on the edge of chaos. This is the size of the system, and the amount of diversity within it. Innovation occurs best in small groups of diverse backgrounds. Uniformity and sameness, with no intellectual and cultural diversity, stifle innovation. With our increasing reliance on “global togetherness” through cyberspace and mass media, many individual differences may disappear; the implication for creativity , adaption, and innovation may be deadly.






The Minding Organization: Chapter 2

Transforming the Organization into an Organism

Science is often viewed as a source of complexity. In fact, science is dedicated to the pursuit of simplicity. Science provides models for encapsulating seemingly unrelated observations and giving them meaning in a larger context.

The time is ripe for a new metaphor for organizations. The metaphor we shall discuss is the metaphor of the minding organization – how complexity theory can be used to transform an organization into an organism. In such an organism, individual behavior is driven or attracted by a shared purpose. Each individual acts in such a way that if others were to do the same, it would be to the benefit of both the individual and others at one and the same time.  People are aligned and bound by mutual trust and driven by common purpose, like the organs within a living, thriving human being.

The new science of complexity suggests that order, as described by the model of evolution, is not entirely random and accidental. Natural selection, it suggests, is a refinement process that follows a spontaneous transition from chaos to order.

The new science of complexity suggests a model of complex systems that go through a rapid transition from chaos to order by self-organizing. Evolution, then, is the process of slowly paced refinements, working within a state or order initially achieved through an act of spontaneous self-organization.

The spontaneous emerging order can be likened to a revolution, or a major breakthrough innovation, whereas evolution involves the refinements of the new level of order resulting from the revolution.

The two stages of revolution and evolution are shown schematically in Figure 2.1.  The horizontal axis is the time scale. The vertical axis is the scale for the level of order; the higher on the scale, the more order.  To transition from one level of order to a new level, a surge of energy is needed to create a spontaneous event of very high impact, a revolution, that can create the lift to a higher state of order.


Applying Complexity Theory to Organizations

Miner’s Helmet Example

A small battery with an on/off switch is attached to the helmet and is wired to a light bulb, also on the helmet.

Focus is on the state of the light bulb.

Only 2 states: On or Off

If we have 2 people with such helmets, then we can assume 4 different states:

  1. Both Lights On
  2. Both Lights Off
  3. (1) Light on (2) Light off
  4. (1) Light of (2) Light on

For 3 people, we will have 8 states, every time we add a person with a helmet, the number of states is doubled.

thus for n people, there are 2 to the power of n states.


for 10 people, 2^10 = 1,024 possible states

The state space encompasses the complete range of possible behaviors that the system can assume.

2 extremes of the spectrum of rules governing the states:

  • Chaos: no links and each person is free to switch his light on or off independent of what all the others do.
  • Order: All the helmets operate off a single battery shared, so only 2 states are possible, on or off.

Between Chaos and Order extreme points, we can have a groups of people agreeing to follow some rules of behavior. This represents a partial connectivity to the system.  Namely, 3 groups, A, B C

  • Group A will assume an on state whenever both B and C are on, and assume an off state otherwise.
  • Group B will assume an on state if at least one or the other groups (A or C) is on, and assume an off state otherwise.
  • Group C will assume an on state if at least one of the other groups (A or B) is on, and assume an off state otherwise.

Adhering to the rules of conduct, the system will settle into the following 3 states in the state space, irrespective of the initial state (which could have been any one of the 1,024 possible states in the state space)

  1. All lights are off.
  2. A cycle of two states, called a state cycle, in which the system alternates between only Group B on to only  group C on, back to only B on, then only C on, and so on forever.
  3. All lights on.

All 3 resulting final behaviors are called attractors. Attractors are end state that the system flows into or gravitates toward when it starts in some other state. If a system starts in an attractor state, it remains there. The attractor can consist of a single state in the state space, or a repetitive cycle of state called a state cycle. The sequence of states that the system follows from an initial state through intermediate states until it reaches an attractor is called a trajectory.

In that environment, chaos transitions into order very quickly.

How a Complex System Becomes an Organism

To appreciate the concepts of chaos and order more fully, let’s assume we go with 200 people instead of 10.  The state space is absolutely staggering. Let’s assume we go through 1 million different states per second.  It would still take billions and billions of years to go through the entire state space.

Now, if that’s true about 200 lights, think of the complexity with 100,000 genes or the 100 billion neurons in the human brain.

Between the extremes of chaos and order, the system can self-organize into clusters that follow rules of behavior internally as well as externally, by influencing and being influenced by neighboring clusters. The size of each cluster and the number of clusters will determine where along the scale from order to chaos the system is positioned. Namely, the degree of order will be determined by the number of attractors, and how rapidly they can be reached from any state in the complex environment. To survive in a variable environment, living systems must strike a balance between the stability of order and instability of change. A system must be stable, but not frozen in one state, nor unstable to the point of quick departure s from one state to another as a result of the slightest change in the environment in which the system must adapt to survive.

Studies of complex systems have indicated that systems adapt best when they operate in a state of order on the edge of chaos, in which a measure of stable constancy is coupled with the flexibility of adaptability – that is, where evolutionary, planned, slow, and orderly changes within the state of order, rooted in habitual thinking, are augmented by revolutionary, rapid, breakthrough innovation rooted in unplanned spontaneous thinking.


Systems, or parts of systems in the forms of clusters, do not operate in isolation. They are linked together with other clusters and systems and they co-evolve. We invent, shape, change, and refine artifacts; artifacts, in turn, change us. We co-evolve with artifacts that we create; we shape them as they shape us. The revolution is in the invention of the artifacts. Once invented and found useful, the reciprocity starts. The artifacts pull people to adopt them because they help attain human goals. Those who do not adopt them fall behind. Major breakthrough innovation and inventions create revolutions that usher new futures for mankind, futures that demand that we co-evolve with the innovation or invention at a new level or order.

We are in a state of flux. We are on the edge of chaos. It is time for great innovation and creativity to spark ideas for the next revolution.  Only with mutual trust can we remove the blocks and constraints that keep human potential for creativity from rising to ever higher levels.

To thrive on the edge of chaos the organization must be transformed into an organism in which deliberate planning is augmented by emergent strategies for adapting to a future that arrives unannounced.



The Minding Organization: Chapter 1

9780471347811_jacket_14.inddTitle: The Minding Organization: Bring the Future to the Present and Turn Creative Ideas into Business Solutions

Authors: Moshe F. Rubinstein and Iris R. Firstenberg







Organization comes from the word organism, which means a vital, alive being. An organization alive with the ideas and commitment of its people is an organism.


In a minding organization, not only does the right hand know what the left hand is doing; it knows without constantly having to supervise the left hand’s action. Just as your body is an organism, and you can reach behind your head with your left hand and catch it with your right, so can a minding organization coordinate its effort as a single organism.

Staying with the analogy of hands, if you burn one hand on a stove, the mind registers that hot stove must be avoided, and perpetuates the knowledge by passing it through the organism. The other hand does not hit the burned hand and tell it what an idiot it is for getting burned; rather, it soothes the burned hand and learns from the documented knowledge so that i does not need to also get burned.  When people in an organization makes mistake, it is the equivalent of getting burned.


We just do not see the connection between conversations and productivity. The truth of the matter is that conversation propels creativity and innovation, and in mindful organizations exchanges among workers is invited, encouraged, and rewarded.


The Minding Process

A wonderful anecdote that illustrates this facet of frames of mind and thinking involves an encounter that Moshe had in Jerusalem with an educated, well-to-do Arab named Ahmed.  Ahmed put forth the following question to test the wisdom of those gathered at his dinner table: “Imagine that you, your mother, your wife, and your child are in a boat, and it capsizes. You can save yourself and only one of the remaining three. Whom will you save?”  The response most common along Western line of thoughts is to save the child. The rationale people give is that the child has an entire life ahead and thus has the most to lose. Ahmed, however, considered this to be the wrong answer.  As he saw it, there was only one correct answer, with a corresponding rational argument to support it. “you see,” he said, ” you can have more than one wife in a lifetime, you can have more than one child, but you only have one mother. You must save your mother.”


Understanding that other people have valid interpretations and point of view that are different from your own is important for a number of reasons. It removes the necessity of trying to convert everyone to the same point of view. Instead, every member of the group accepts the possibility of the various perspectives and remain open to new information, which may lend more credibility to one or another of the views. When a single-minded perspective is adopted, new information tends to be discounted, or ignored altogether, when it does not fit this frame of mind.  Even as evidence mounts, if it does not fit the cognitive model that a person holds, the information will dissipate into mindlessness.  When we are open to multiple points of view, information is evaluated in a more minding frame, to see where it might fit in. As change occurs, it is brought in incrementally and we are not shocked into uttering, “How could I have been so blind!” having looked without seeing.


When we do not question the process, minding has stopped. Ellen J. Langer, in her insightful book Mindfulness, relays the anecdote of three generations of women who have been making pot roast with the same recipe. The youngest woman has always cut a piece off the roast before putting it into the pot. When asked by a friend why she does this, she realizes that she has no idea why it is necessary to cut off a slice, and calls her mother to inquire.  Her mother is also puzzled by the question, and she tells her daughter that she cuts off a slice because that’s the way her mother has always done it. They decide to question the grandmother on this ritual.  The grandmother answers that the reason she slices the roast is, “that’s the only way it will fit into my pot.”  This anecdote illustrates the absurdity of certain actions, which may have a reason for their origin, but are then propagated mindlessly. Many organizations will frequently turn down a new process because “we’ve never done that before,” and will continue with a line of action ” because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”  It may very well be that the organization developed a behavior of “a pot that was too small,” but the original reason for the action has become obsolete or irrelevant. “Because we’ve  always done it that way” is synonymous with not minding the content in which you do business. Always ask, “Why?”


Minding does not mean that we never accept a decision and move on. It means, instead, that we are conscious that we have done so and that the decision was, in this sense, arbitrary; that is, we choose a cutoff point where we stop asking questions and seeking additional information.  This mind frame will allow change to more readily be admitted; it does not mean that we will constantly be changing. By minding, we continue to be aware of choices, aware that other alternatives are available, even if at the moment we are not availing ourselves of them.  Minding is then a liberating activity, not an incapacitating activity. When changes do become necessary, they are not viewed as departures from the norm, but a part of the greater norm.


The emphasis on process rather than exclusively on results is not easy for a society that values achievements. Promotions and raises are based on the bottom line, not a lines of thought. A story to illustrate this point: A farmer who is the father of two sons finds himself too ill to till his fields. He calls the first son to his beside and asks him to work the fields. The son caresses his father and assures him that he will tend to the work.  However, as soon as he leaves his father he takes the family car and spends the day in town, thinking his father will never know the difference.  The father calls the second son and asks him to also tend the fields.  The second son irately responds that he is tired of farm work and refuses to take on the burden.  When he leaves his father’s bedside, he reflects for a while and is ashamed of himself.  Without saying a word to his father, he goes out to the field and does the entire job.  At the end of the day, the father discovers the first son spent the day carousing in town while the second son tilled the field. Which son incurs more of the father’s anger on this day? It is, of course, a matter of perspective.  In Western society most people would answer that the first son, who promised to work but failed to do so, would get the bulk of the father’s anger.  The second son, while speaking disrespectfully to his father, nevertheless got the job done. The emphasis is on the outcome.  In another culture, in which process takes precedence over results, the emphasis is on how the sons spoke to the father. People from a process-oriented culture will be more angry with the son who spoke spitefully, with the ensuing fieldwork of secondary importance.  Once again, there is always more than one way to look at situation.

 Errors as Part of the Minding Process

Processes are subject to continuous revisions; outcomes are rigid. This is the most significant difference in the two approaches. Error as part of an ongoing process implies that we learn, adapt, and move on; error as an outcome freezes us in place.


The world is full of good design, but we are unaware of most of it. Poor design catches our attention because a product is awkward to use or a service frustrating to implement.  Details that make a product work are added by people carefully thinking of how others use objects, the kind of errors that can ensue, and carefully observing the interaction between people and products.  When someone makes an error, there is usually a good reason for it.  Perhaps the information available is incomplete or misleading. Perhaps the context leads to a misinterpretation of available information. Most decisions seem sensible at the time they are made. Errors are understandable once their cause is determined. Systems must be designed to learn from error, not just eliminate it.


Human cognition is limited, and ability to interact with objects is subject to constraints. A designer who depends on an instruction manual to mediate between a product and a user has not been creative enough to consider alternatives.


Context is a powerful controlling mechanism, and minding requires an awareness of its effects. What role do our perceptions play in creating context? Context, like any other aspect of reality, is also a function of our interpretations. Are the economics of today a good context for starting a business? This depends on what factors you are considering and what type of business you are evaluating.


When we perceive that someone has taken our words “out of context,” we are really saying that they have imposed a context on our words that is different from the context we framed for our words.

The ability to change contexts and use multiple contexts is also known as re-framing.


As we increase our repertoire of mental frames, we increase our agility to interpret information and innovate. Railroads declined because they saw themselves in the limit context of “moving on rails,” and not in the broader frame  of “transportation.” Typewriters companies became obsolete because they restricted themselves to “typing” instead of the broader frame of “word processing.” In contrast, Xerox re-framed itself to become “The Document Company” by broadening the context from the limits of being “The Photocopy Company”


Interpreting a business through new frames opens up possible ventures that the mind otherwise never considers. Narrow frame give way to wider frames; vertical frames give way to frames of two and three dimensions. The possibilities are endless for increasing minding.


A New Metaphor

The new metaphor requires the organization to embrace uncertainty and chaos, and to learn to thrive on it.  The organization must find ways to bring the future closer to the present by employing concurrent perceptions, those of the past, present, and future, and learn the powerful skills of thinking backwards. Decisions making must become more distributed across the organization, all the way to the “vehicle driver.” learning will be central if the organization continues to adapt and becomes capable of dealing with the unplanned and unanticipated, which will be more prevalent in the future.The Power of Human PerceptionArtificial intelligence has made a profound contribution to enhance our understanding of the power and complexity of the human brain.  It has also identified the limits of the computer as the model of the brain. Once we move out from the expert domain to the domain of common sense, it is virtually impossible to mimic human behavior. Unpredictable events that require improvisation are still a domain in which the human reigns supreme, and the computer can hardly begin to emulate successfully.


Expert systems, which are computer programs that attempt to mimic expert behavior, are based on the assumption that the expert has a complete theory that he or she can articulate. However, evidence is mounting that experts operate with incomplete theories, and they must balance constancy of behavior with flexibility to adapt to new situations by improvising. Also, the expert is not able to articulate fully the process that he or she employs.

Minding and Creativity

Creative thinking requires a process that is quite different from that of rational thinking.  Whereas rational thinking depends on categories and labels that have been set up in advance, creative thinking demands that we form new categories and labels.  Rational thought leads us to find the similarities between a new experience and previous experiences so that we can treat them the same way.  Creative thought looks for the difference among experiences, seeking unique ways of both interpreting situations and acting upon them.  Rational thinking seeks to confirm; creative thinking seeks to invent. Both rational thought and creative thought are necessary for minding.


Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner has developed a theory of multiple intelligences that people have within themselves. They include the following abilities

  • Logical mathematical
  • Verbal
  • Spatial
  • Musical
  • Bodily -kinesthetic
  • Interpersonal -with others
  • Intrapersonal- with oneself

These many forms of intelligence translate to the following possible forms of creativity and excellence in various domains; teaching, research, poetry, mathematics, music, technical, verbal expression, acting, body movement, social behavior, psychology, as well as others.


Attributes of Creative People

The following attributes summarize many studies over the years characterizing people who display creative behavior. Creative people:

  • Have a strong capacity for abstract thinking
  • Can assimilate opposites
  • Have high tolerance for complexity
  • Respect fact and attempt to give them interpretation and meaning in a larger context
  • Tolerate uncertainty, ambiguity, and conflict
  • Like adventure
  • Enjoy the surprise of the unplanned
  • Are confident in themselves and in what they are doing, whatever the outcome
  • Like to see the results of their efforts

Finally, for creative people, optimism and errors are actual strategies.These attributes are central to the creative process that involves homo-spatial thinking, which calls for holding opposites in the same space or frame long enough to permit the possible emergence of new frames, new ideas, or new creative sparks.  This juxtaposition of opposites, such as negative and positive, right and wrong, good and bad, rest and motion, wave and particle, and soon, is part of the creative process that includes the following oscillation between extremes of spectrum: the state of chaos and the state of order, diffused broad panoramas and sharply focused fields, the whole and its constituent elements, the abstract and the concrete, to see the familiar as strange and the strange as familiar.

Book to Read:
The Design of Everyday Things, Donald Norman
Mindfulness, Ellen J. Langer