Monday, September 25, 2006

Chaos Theory and Organisations

As I call my blog Current Chaos I though it is appropriate to share my ideas about how chaos theaory and human organization come together. I should start by pointing out that I am niether an expert in chaos theory or organizational theory. I am a computer geek. I work in a cube. I prefer the company of my computer to most anyone outside of my immediate family (I love my wife and daughters very much, just in case they decide to read this :-). In my spare time I write software for free, or design, build and program robots. By now you should be getting the picture that I really am a geek full time. Still, I do look up from the monitor every now and again. One thing likely to get my attention is science. In particular any sciencentific news that effect how people look at problems. I see a lot of similarity between the scientific method and developing software. Therefor I am always interested in how scientist think about the world, and how they present the complex systems they are trying to understand. So when I heard about Chaos Theory I figured it was worth a look.
One aspect of chaos theory as I understand it is that complex systems are expected to show the traits shared by most of thier parts. That is not to say the average behaviour, but that the most common traits will show through. One way to think about this is to imagine a box full of Mexican Jumping Beans. For those that do not know, Mexican Jumping Beans are beans that spontaneously "jump" about a quarter inch into the air. The direction of the jump is essentially random (it's actually chaotic, but that is a discussion for another article). So you can imagine a box full of beans bouncing up and down in random directions, the result of that movement would be a pretty even spread of the beans throughout the box. Now if we introduce a trait to the jumping, say by lifting one side of the box an inch, obviously we would expect the beans to collect at the low side of the box. This is true even though some of the beans would make pretty good headway toward the highside of the box, eventually most of the beans would be at the low side.
Now let's consider something more interesting than a box of Mexican Jumping Beans, (not that I have any issues with Mexican Jumping beans mind you :-) let's consider an organization. The parts of an organization are people. No matter how else you think of an organization being put together, ultimately they are made up of people. So what traits, if any, do people share. This is where my Christian beliefs come into play. As a Christian I believe that all people have a fallen nature, that is that all people are sinful by nature. This is not to indicate that I have lost all faith in my fellow man. I know and work with a number of people that are honest, hardworking folks. Still the traits that are shared by most people are the seven deadly sins. The sin nature of people would naturally be the common trait. What would we expect given this hypothesis?
To answer that lets ask a different question. How would you describe most organizations? Large corporations, governments, any other large organizations, are typically described as selfish, greedy, mean and even cruel. This is unfortunately what this hypothesis expects. The sinful nature of human beings comes out as the number of humans involved increases. So small organizations good, big organizations bad.

Well that's sure to be controversial, but then I have never been afraid of controversy.

Hope you are yours are well,

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