The 10 Characteristics of a Complex Evolving System by Professor Eve Mitleton Kelly of the London School of Economics

  • Connectivity and interdependence – networks of relationships have different degrees of connectivity Self-organisation is a spontaneous coming together of individuals; its often a source of innovation. It can be blocked or facilitated by culture and management style. The SOL network is an example, supported by guiding principles (and other attractors, which often include a spiritual aspect) Emergence comes out of self-organisation, but cannot be predicted in advance; much creativity is emergent
  • Feedback – a process not a mechanism (unless in an engineering context) – reinforces or balances in a social system
  • Co-evolution – reciprocal influences of entities in an ecosystem, resulting in change to both/all. Strategy, for example, is not just us acting on the world but there is a reaction back upon us
  • Exploration of the space of possibilities – looking at constraints and inhibitors – looking at new perspectives, turning inhibitors into enablers. Not major innovation, often, but looking at the “adjacent possibles” – just one step away. A single, optimum strategy is not possible in a turbulent environment
  • Far from equilibrium – Prigogine’s work showed that when a system is pushed far from equilibrium, symmetry is broken but particles behave coherently, and at a macro level this coherence characterises emergent behaviour: new order is created. However, precise, actual behaviour cannot be predicted or controlled.
  • Historicity and time – chance events, unfolding in time, generate complex social phenomena
  • Path dependence – the form and direction of events depends on preceding events – for example, look at the historical development of the railways.
  • Previous interactions bring about what we currently experience – and a technology develops from a small starting point, and then grows through a positive feedback mechanism and a momentum gradually develops
  • Creation of New Order – under non-equilibrium conditions, certain systems can create new order – and if we know this, we can facilitate the emergence of this new order, rather than inhibit it


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