Only self-organization copes with Ashby’s law

Ashby’s law – complexity begets complexity – is a natural law, like gravity, and cannot be escaped. ALL organizations run into trouble. Either they get stuck, bogged down in rules, systems, meetings and disillusion. Or they try to get “free”, escalate into free-lancers, break away, turn to extremism, and illusions. What goes up – organizations – must come down – disorganization. The more we want to “manage” change, the more trouble we create.

You can see illustrations of these situations everywhere. More and better roads lead to more and better traffic jams. More cost control leads to more measures that cost more money, and then we change the system, without considering the cost of changing the system… . More taxation leads to more tax heavens, … to more rules and more lawyers who invent … . Compensating for an economic crisis creates trillion dollar debts. A bigger union leads to more “x-exits”. The more we try to organize, the bigger the problems become. The more we create, the more we have to destroy. These are not separate processes. We’re keeping them separate. Ashby’s law works at its own pace and makes sure that complexity is served.

We are by nature short-sighted. Until ten thousand years ago, our problems were local. Perhaps we sometimes burned down a continent, or were trapped in a Tragedy of the Commons. No big deal. Our thinking and sensing is still local. The word “politics” is derived from “polis”, city. So we focus on only one side of Ashby’s law when we organize: reducing complexity, creating filters, looking for less complications, trying to keep it simple and general. Manage. Control. So we focus on what we’re good at: short term problem solving. We don’t notice the paradox, that problem solving is inherently paradoxical.

We analyze a situation, create a simple model and add some metaphors – spicy, selling it -, “solve” problem through the model and implement our solution. We didn’t see or ignored – the complex side, the shadows, the hidden parts. We didn’t solve anything, we just created a bigger problem. We think we have understood the situation, when we have a model, an organization. And then our solution creates “symptoms”, “symptoms” we consider attributes of problems, which turn into new problems. And we enter the cycle again. In the end, we blame the victims. The other ones, they didn’t understand, they are ignorant or they resist.

But now, what if problem solving has become the problem? What if we reached the edge of what we can achieve? What is the buck stops here? What if communication is the problem to the answer?

By trying to reduce complexity, we’re increased complexity. We started out with small organizations, which we merged into larger and larger unions. We started out with small countries, created “Vereenigde Nederlanden”, “United Kingdoms”, “Bundesländer”, “Sovjet Unions”, “united states”. As we assume causal relationships and ignore cycles, we still assume that our leaders have “caused” this. And we turn to them to solve it for us. They cannot, because our models are failing us. It is worse than “We cannot solve the problems with the thinking that created them”, we cannot outthink, outsmart reality anymore. We have to use Ashby’s Law and accept complexity. Embrace her.

At the same time, Ashby’s law has being playing a trick on us. Off course, we tend not to notice, and try to out-smart the Law again. Won’t work. Without noticing Ashby’s Law, we have been building amplifiers out of filters. We have created – or have been tricked into – the situation we have no other option, than to apply ourselves to LoRV.

Now, what is the nature of Ashby’s law? She invented “evolution” or – with a modern word – self-organization. Life delivers what the Law of the Requisite Variety does: create variety. We thought we were in control, while at the same time, LoRV ruled, one ring to rule them all. Our world is in the business of self-organizing, the only ones who didn’t notice this are we. Because we’re too busy organizing.

Life is what happens when you’re making plans.

How do we go from here? If you cannot beat them, join them. Just copy and paste: start living life, loving life, go self-organizing, reduce reduction of complexity and start enjoying diversity or complexity or change for what it is: natural.

We’ve been inventing some wonderful methods and tools to accomplish this and will soon share them with you.

About Jan Lelie

Jan Lelie faciliteert veranderingsprocessen, bijeenkomsten en workshops. Hij is de vader van twee – volwassen – kinderen. Hij heeft het certificaat Certfied Professional Facilitator van de International Association of Facilitators. Hij iis afgestudeerd in Bedrijfskunde (Informatica) en Natuurkunde (experimenteel, Biofysica). Hij ondersteunt de professionele ontwikkeling van het faciliteren als één van de oprichters van de stichting IAF-Benelux en de vereniging IAF-Netherlands

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