Normal Chaos Framework

The Normal Chaos Framework is designed to support decision-making in the context of complex, fast-moving, dynamic situations.

 

Structures identifies those components of the decision context that are likely to remain constant for the envisaged timeframe.

 

Dynamics considers those factors that are likely to play on, rearrange, and potentially change, those structural components.

 

Patterns looks to identify how the dynamics are likely or may possibly re-arrange the structures under consideration.

STRUCTURES

Structures concern the more tangible aspects of a system and discussion of these facets gives more form to the debate.  Amongst their considerations of structures, analysts should consider scale, interdependencies and self-organisation.

Scale

Within academic work the issue of scale would be referred to as “level of analysis”.

Interdependencies

 

Discussion of interdependencies looks to identify the connections needed between parts of the whole (be they individuals or groups).

Self-Organisation

Self-Organisation (or Self-Organising) recognises that roles played by impromptu, organic or informal reorganising is out of the control of management.

PATTERNS

Patterns recognition is an important, if overlooked, part of the decision making process.  Amongst their considerations of patterns, the analysts should consider fractals, the fitness landscape and the role of illusions.

 

Fitness Landscape

Fitness landscape concerns how organisations revise their strategy in order to pursue a “best fit” (or just a “better”) strategy when faced by circumstances rife with ambiguity and uncertainty.

Fractals

Fractals concern patterns that repeat themselves. In the case of normal chaos, the concern is whether such patterns actually repeat (whether across scales or horizontally across similar organisations) to the point that they form a dependable basis for decision making within the new context.

 

Validity

Anthropology clearly shows how societies use myths and legends (with their inherent falsehoods) in order to cope with life’s uncertainties. The normal chaos framework therefore requires analysts to assess that validity of “commonly held belief”.

 

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DYNAMICS

The concept of dynamics concerns trying to understand the forces that shape patterns and structures, their flow, their power to shape in the short and long term. Amongst their considerations of energy, the analysts should consider attractors, energy flow and the edge of chaos.

 

Energy Flow

Energy flow concerns how, over time, the energy driving individual dynamics may change.

Attractors

Attractors can be seen as the accumulative effect of the many, often contradictory, dynamics that will push or pull an organisation in a particular direction.

Edge of Chaos

The edge of chaos concerns the identification of the “point” at which the system may fail.

 

 

[Last Updated: 31 Jan 22]

 

Using the Framework

 

The framework can be used at any of four levels.

Level 1 (Normal Chaos) just open the debate on the nature of the system to be examined.

Level 2 adds debate of Structures, Dynamics and Patterns to the discussion.

Level 3 adds debate of Scale, Interdependencies, Self-organisation, Energy Flow, Attractors, Edge of Chaos, Fitness landscape, Fractals and Validity to the discussion.

Level 4 (to be elaborated on later) adds a further 3 lens to each of the current Level 3 lens. At this level of analysis there would be 40 lens which could in the order of 1,600 relationships. ETTO suggests that it is unlikely that this level of debate would ever be used. Recognition of this should bring to the fore the limited nature of the analysis being done.

Level 1 Analysis

 

At its most basic level the Normal Chaos framework is designed to provoke debate about the nature of the system that we are about to examine. The most basic question to be answered is whether the world is ordered and predictability, or not. If this was a simple binary question, I would answer that it was not. This is similar to the question as to whether alcohol is a stimulant or a depressant. The answer to this question is that, although alcohol can produce behaviours that makes it appear to be a stimulant, it is in reality a depressant. The same can be said for whether the world is order or not.  While the dynamics that drive systems creates patterns that can appear as order, in a moment these patterns can disappear. A fuller answer would be more nuanced; see here.

At this basic level, the idea of Normal Chaos start debate on:

 

  • Whether the system is open or closed.

 

  • Whether the system is linear or non-linear.

 

  • Whether all interactions will produce results proportionate to the inputs.

 

  • Whether the system is capability of producing unexpected ("emergent") results.

  • Whether paradox is inherent within systems.

STRUCTURES

 

Structures concern the more tangible aspects of a system and discussion of these facets gives more form to the debate.  Amongst their considerations of structures, analysts should consider scale, interdependencies and self-organisation.

 

Scale

Within academic work the issue of scale would be referred to as “level of analysis”. This requires the analysts to identify the part of the whole that is being discussed. It also requires them to recognise how this factor affects the debate and the shaping of recommendations (note the link back to double-loop learning).  For example, where a text  refers to an organisation, such as the "London Fire Brigade”, this term can be used to refer to the force overall, a particular group within the brigade, or an individual member of the brigade. In the later case the act reported is just one of the many (both inside and outside the organisation) implied by the statements that are needed for the desired outcome to be achieved. In turn, this provides an illusion that the system dynamics necessary to disseminate the information are much simpler than they actually are.

 

Interdependencies

 

Discussion of interdependencies looks to identify the connections needed between parts of the whole (be they individuals or groups). This seeks to establish the connections that are needed between these interdependent parts. Here the normal chaos analyst also looks to establish linkages between the past and the present (often critical to the context of the debate), the power relationship between protagonists, whether the relationship is productive or dysfunctional and whether there is a willingness to understand another’s problem. These issues are critical in identifying the communications that are needed between these parts and their priority within the system as a whole.

 

Self-Organisation

Self-Organisation (or Self-Organising) recognises that roles played by impromptu, organic or informal reorganising is out of the control of management. This often occurs either where there are gaps in the formal structures or where the power structures are not aligned to the formal structures.

 

DYNAMICS

 

 The concept of dynamics concerns trying to understand the forces that shape patterns and structures, their flow, their power to shape in the short and long term. It concerns how energy moves within the system, and when and how the control of this energy may be lost (here the metaphor of uncontrolled energy loss equates explosion to crisis and has been labelled “abnormal chaos”). For the analysts, the idea of dynamics is based on the idea that energy cannot be lost or created; if it is added to one facet, it must come from another. Therefore, based on this logic, the analyst is encouraged to think about “who pays if someone else gains?” and to look more broadly to see who or what is adversely affected when a benefit is accrued elsewhere in the system. Experience suggests that these unintended consequences are often the seed of the next crisis. Amongst their considerations of energy, the analysts should consider attractors, energy flow and the edge of chaos.

 

Energy Flow

 

Energy flow concerns how, over time, the energy driving individual dynamics may change. Here the normal chaos analyst would consider how energy flows into, around and out of the system. In addition they would be encouraged to consider how this may change individual dynamics and the direction that the attractor might move the organisation overall.

 

Attractors

 

Attractors can be seen as the accumulative effect of the many, often contradictory, dynamics that will push or pull an organisation in a particular direction. For normal chaos the analysts consideration of attractors is meant to prompt them to identify the overall heading of a system and then to identify the individual dynamics and the “energy” that are driving them. Once understood, action can be taken to change them as seen to be appropriate.

 

Edge of Chaos

 

The edge of chaos concerns the identification of the “point” at which the system may fail. The paradox here is that just before this point,  it is also at its most efficient. Here efficiency and vulnerability go hand in hand. The issue here is therefore to try to understand the shape of the failure curve and know the signals to look for (see for example the literature on ”Weak Signals” such as Lagadec (1993:47) who defines them as “warning signals very close to the normal background noise” or Vaughan (1997:87) who defined them as "one that was unclear, or one that, after analysis, seemed such an improbable event that working engineers believed there was little probability of it recurring". It should be noted that this is but part of a much wider literature on the subject of  signals [wanting signs]).

 

PATTERNS

 

Patterns recognition is an important, if overlooked, part of the decision making process. The normal chaos framework therefore requires analysts to identify and assess the patterns of activity that are embedded within their systems. Amongst their considerations of patterns, the analysts should consider fractals, the fitness landscape and the role of illusions.

 

Fitness Landscape

 

Fitness landscape concerns how organisations revise their strategy in order to pursue a “best fit” (or just a “better”) strategy when faced by circumstances rife with ambiguity and uncertainty. This approach accepts that “trial and error” or experimentation (complete with its potential for failure) might be the only way forward. The normal chaos framework therefore requires analysts to assess the robustness of the organisation’s current strategy and the cost of finding a potentially better fit

 
 

Fractals

 

Fractals concern patterns that repeat themselves. In the case of normal chaos, the concern is whether such patterns actually repeat (whether across scales or horizontally across similar organisations) to the point that they form a dependable basis for decision making within the new context.

Validity

 

Anthropology clearly shows how societies use myths and legends (with their inherent falsehoods) in order to cope with life’s uncertainties. Psychology also provides warning that mankind is more comfortable applying certainties that are untrue than facing the unease caused by uncertainty. The normal chaos framework therefore requires analysts to assess that validity of “commonly held belief” to avoid comforting illusions. For example, based on Prigogine’s thinking, we need to question whether thinking that the world is ordered is an illusion

 

 

Last updated: 31 Jan 22