Complex Adaptive Systems (ii): thinking about emergence and ITSM

Complex adaptive systems exhibit behaviour that cannot be predicted, but can often be explained retrospectively.

Although they are everyday occurrences, traffic jams are actually very complicated and mysterious. On an individual level, each driver is trying to get somewhere and is following (or breaking) certain rules, some legal (the speed limit) and others societal or personal (slow down to let another driver change into your lane). But a traffic jam is a separate and distinct entity that emerges from those individual behaviors.

If you want to change things then you need to let a thousand flowers bloom; Some will thrive, some will not; you can’t determine in advance what will work… in general, you want a wildflower meadow, not a formal garden.

One of the challenges in engineering is the trade-off between the system specification by the designer and the creative freedom of the system. More freedom means less control over the system’s behaviour. Engineers need to find ways to delimit the system’s behaviour while still allowing it sufficient creative freedom to localise solutions in an adaptive way.

3 Concentric boxes describing states of complex adaptive systems. “Desired” (inner), “Allowed” (middle), “Possible” (outer)

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