The HumanCurrent is here because we want to explore how understanding complex systems can help us make sense of the world, especially our human systems.
Why have a podcast about complexity?
Complexity runs like a current through our lives and nature without respect for the boundaries and mental borders we create, and we hope that through gaining a better understanding of how it works, we can relax a little more with a little less need for control in the sandboxes in which we play. We want to share what we learn because we believe just thinking this way will make us smarter and happier.
Complexity simply is.
We love to ask the experts about complexity and get, well, complex, but we also believe that conversations about nonlinear systems could (and should) be had everywhere and with anyone at any time. If you are part of a human organization - like a company, club, or family - that evolves, you're part of a complex adaptive system. If you have a body, you are a complex adaptive system. One colony of ants over a span years, a species, a city, an economy. Complexity arises when multiple forces or "agents" within a system interact on a local level, with feedback rippling through networks to produce emergent behavior and patterns.
In other words, small shifts can lead to big changes. The results may not reflect the energy or effort involved in the interactions; the whole may be greater than, or more subtle than the sum of its parts. Yet as they evolve, complex systems can exhibit timeless, unanticipated symmetry, as if the patterns were there in blueprint from the beginning--and isn't that what makes life interesting and beautiful?
We want to understand consciousness, everywhere it exists.
A koan. An unsolvable puzzle that looked elementary at first. Love. Like these mysteries, complexity hints at the ultimate mystery, calling us ever closer into deeper layers of understanding. We can learn about ourselves by looking both at the complex world that produced us, and at the complex things that we produce--and most of all at the relationship between these things.
In nature, a flock of birds reflects one important behavior characteristic of complex adaptive systems (called "flocking"). A flock of birds can appear to move in unison, shifting direction dramatically as if the flock shared one mind or was led by a single bird. In fact, the flock has no real leader or mind-melding abilities. What's actually happening is that one bird on the edge turns, prompted perhaps by a change in the wind; the bird next to it follows suit, going with the flow and avoiding collision, and the two next to that bird shift trajectory also--and so on. The bird-to-bird feedback is so immediately integrated that the flock appears to move as one consciousness.
You can see how this could translate to human social networks, especially cultures. The relationships between the agents of a complex system are where the real pattern-forming action happens, except that in truly complex systems there aren't always easy causal explanations to be found just by taking the system apart and looking at its components. To borrow an analogy from Prof. Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University, imagine trying to take apart a cloud to understand how the weather works. And yet complex adaptive systems, however diverse their origin, have a fascinating number of characteristics in common - enough to form a discipline as complex as the subject of its study.
Complexity is relevant and #notboring.
Because the relationships themselves are constantly shifting and evolving in context, quality and frequency, complexity guarantees that the system will eventually produce unexpected results, even (and especially) when small constraints are introduced. That means it's probably not boring.
To some, talking about complexity may appear to be so much intellectual frolicking in a field that's only recently been seeded. But curious minds across such disciplines as biology, climatology, economy, genetics, population science, medicine, physics, and so on throughout the sciences have been talking about this for a while, just maybe not in the same room. What these people are really geeking out about is the possibility of understanding of how the universe works once you can zoom far enough out and in to see patterns and relationships.
Recently, complexity is getting some love in the business world. Shoe retailer giant Zappos, without a hint of cheekiness, has made a love-it-or-leave-us edict of self-organization to its employees, and Holocracy seeks to be a tool for navigating complexity in companies, both as a product and a set of best practices that is becoming a movement. And that's just the beginning of an intellectual crossover that promises to be an exciting shift in business.
We're excited about learning from each other.
Once you look at life through a systems lens, there's no going back. Not even for fear of your own ignorance. It's like relearning the world in color, stepping into Oz from out of a dust-storm of black and white.
That's why we're here. We're not scientists, data analysts or SMEs. We're just nodes in the human system, who've seen the world in a new way and want to talk about complexity with others who have pieces of the pattern. Whoever you are, we hope you'll join us in curiosity.