QUALITIES OF SYSTEMS AND "
Chaos theory explains how complex systems
. Quite surprisingly, while the number of complex systems might be nearly endless, in their evolution they will be attracted to only four predictable and ordered states, called attractors. The word
because the long-
behavior of the system's many
seems pulled toward one of four different, predictable states, producing a predictable shape to the eventual system. In the course of a system's evolution, how that system settles into one and not another of the attractors is determined by three qualities:
Energy flow into the system
Degrees of freedom in the system
Flexibility in the structure of the system
The higher the energy flow, the greater the degrees of freedom, and the more flexible the structure will allow the system to evolve toward the great creativity and endless possibilities of the "strange attractor," the most commonly known of the four attractors.
For more information on attractors, see John Briggs and F. David Peat,
(New York: Harper & Row, 1989).
ATTRACTOR AND RESILIENCY OF PEER ORGANIZATIONS
We've seen that systems
from simple and uninteresting to complex, dynamic, and endlessly creative as the system's energy flow, degrees of freedom, and flexibility are all increased. Organizations likewise become more innovative and successful by implementing the peer-based practices that increase information flow, freedom in decision making, and the flexibility and responsiveness of the organization.
A strange attractor, simply put, is a system that appears
but in fact possesses an amazing degree of order and creative potential. A key property of the strange attractor is its "stretch and fold" characteristic. Imagine taking some bread dough and placing two raisins in it side by side. If you stretch the dough, the two raisins move far apart, but when you fold the dough back in on itself, the two raisins once again are side by side. If you repeat this procedure again and again, you will notice how the two raisins wander
in the dough, with one stretch moving them away from each other and one fold moving them closer together, all the while not altering the general shape of the dough. If you think of the dough as the attractor of the system and the
of the raisins as two different states of the system, you get a good picture of what happens in a chaotic system. At any one moment in the history of a dynamic system, two events or states are in close proximity, while in the very
moment they are unpredictably far apart. This is due to the nearly infinite degrees of freedom available in the strange attractor system.
Another way to explain this property of the strange attractor is to view the system as being
by two antagonistic tendencies: (1) a tendency to converge, to fold, and (2) a tendency to diverge, to stretch. This makes the system incredibly resilient. Similarly, an organization in today's turbulent business environment, with its high rates of energy circulation, must be able to deal with both tension-expanding (stretch) and tension-compressing (fold) forces. Organizations need to be able to
to accommodate special needs and then to return to shape, or
back. They must be able to deal with uncertainty by flexibly changing structure when necessary and then reconfiguring without breaking apart. The peer-based practices that we will discuss give an organization this responsiveness and flexibility. Rank-based thinking is inadequate in this "strange" world. It will break apart under the stress of uncertainty and turbulence. Companies need to develop the elasticity and the plasticity that is characteristic of the stretching and folding of the strange attractor. The implications of the strange attractor model for organizations,
leaderless organizations, will be seen later in this chapter and in