How complexity can unify an understanding of community structure and behaviour

There’s been a great discussion about configuring forum discussions on e-mint recently (‘Discussions boards navigation/IA’), with one post from Ian Dickson sparking my interest on another level. He concluded his reply on the subject with the following ‘PS’: “it’s easier to simplify something that is overengineered than it is to complexify (?) something simple unless youn write off the older content.”

PaperPhoto by Stuart Glendinning Hall

Why is this of interest? Because it points to the value of a complexity approach in unifying the organic nature of an online community and and its structure. Sure, you might say, I could see why a bunch of people online can be seen in organic terms, but structure? But here’s the point. A motor engine is not complex its complicated, because its not based on organic principles, but mechanic ones. It also has none of the properties of self-regulation which an organic system has, hence the need for a control mechanism. But the structure of an online community can be designed along organic lines, based on simple parts which are assembled to form a complex whole. Seen in this complexity light Ian’s then in ideal terms it really is as straightforward to simply the complex as it is to make the simple complex. But what I suspect he means by ‘overengineered’ is in fact ‘complicated’. And in that sense I  agree with him. As it is very difficult to make the mechanically complicated simple. So that’s why its important to build it on complex lines in the first place. And with the bonus that it fits with the way you approach management of the community itself, along organic lines, encouraging self-regulation rather than seeking control as a way of unleashing the power of the community. Hey, it’s just theory, but thanks again to Deirdre’s original post and Ian’s reply for the inspiration!

Conversations, complexity and business change

For no reason except I was trying to help Shirley figure out the week ahead I started thinking about the value of conversations, specifically using online communities to full effect, as part of a practically-minded ‘complexity’ approach to business. Then I did a Google search on complexity and conversations and came up with Dr Patricia Shaw’s book on the subject, with the following customer recommendation which is a useful starting point for further thought:

At last, recognition that real change doesn’t happen purely because of top-down, management dictats, but is embodied by real people having real conversations that are not structured by clear objectives, goals and processes. Inherently scary for all those who rely on management as a control process in their organisations and change as a corporately-guided process, this instead looks at the informal organisation and how creating spaces for conversations between like-minded change agents can be the most effective.

This veers slightly too far into complexity and informal processes only for me – I believe that a balance is required between formal change and informal conversations, but this is still an important broadening of the discussion on corporate change.