Evolving systems and man-made systems

There are two types of social systems evolving systems and man-made systems. One is evolving by itself without engineering or central control. The other is engineered and controlled by humans. One of the main concerns of people is uncertainty. Evolving systems are complex (many diverse and autonomous parts that interact to reach a common goal). Therefore, companies try to reduce uncertainty by creating or engineering a social system that should yield more predictability and less uncertainty. 

Direct report line, clear definitions of accountabilities, specialization, policies, procedures, processes, values, etc. are the tools used to create a more predictable system. But, is this system create more predictability or just an illusion of control? 

There are man-made systems that are working pretty well and achieve the goal above. Dams are a good example of man-made engineered systems that provide more predictability and control. From time to time, the evolving system will take over and damage the dams, but usually, they are providing what they were built for. If you’ll think about other successful examples, you’ll find out that successful man-made systems running alone. It is a part of a larger emerging system that will impact it from time to time, but there aren’t any other subsystems with the same parts that are running in parallel.

If we’ll switch back to organizations, the reality is different. Organizations have two social systems running in parallel. Once people together they will create and evolve a social system, there is nothing that can be done to change it and history provides many examples of attempts to enforce man-made systems that failed. Therefore, the man-made systems in organizations are more illusion of control. The fact that when a decision made the way to implement it is to use the social evolving system to get support, is demonstrating how effective the man-made system.

Due to the role of the evolving system in organizations, the predictability of organization is much lower than what people believe it is. sound hopeless? Not at all! Many social systems around us (such as cities) are surviving and thriving with internal and external complexities. All we have to do is to learn what they are doing to operate in a complex and uncertain world and implement it in our companies.

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