I’ll answer that question by asking you two more questions… Have you ever seen a single bird fly into a window? Most of us have. But… have you ever seen a flock of birds fly into a window? I doubt it. This is because flocks of birds are much more adaptive to their environment than individual birds, and they can quickly respond to most obstacles and changes in their environment.
Flocks of birds also have other interesting characteristics. The dynamic and intricate pattern that you see when a flock of birds flies overhead, is done without a management hierarchy. There is no lead bird micro-managing the other birds and telling them all where to fly.
The individual birds self-organize by adhering to a few simple rules. This self-organization leads to unpredictable results; you cannot predict the specific patterns that will emerge, but the behavior is adaptive and highly robust.
This is an example of a Complex Adaptive System. Let’s contrast this with a complicated system: a complicated system is brittle, predictable, and hierarchical. Large production lines are complicated systems. They require detailed planning and control, and they are designed for predictability.
Complex Adaptive Systems are NOT complicated: instead, they are adaptive, non-hierarchical, self-organizing, with robust emergent properties: simple rules can lead to emergent results.
So, why should you care about this? Because Complex Adaptive Systems are excellent models for most high-tech companies, start-ups, social enterprises, and even cities. Applying the lessons of Complex Adaptive Systems can help us build businesses and cities that are more robust, more innovative, self-organizing, and quickly adapt to changes in the environment. I’ll write more about this in another blog post soon.