31 Jan Complexity – the simple path to success in development
The development industry lacks mechanisms which are common in successful complex systems, such as specialisation and exchange, and feedback, which drives out poor performance and scales up success.
We are surrounded by complex adaptive systems: animal biology, the internet, ecosystems, competitive markets, and many others. These systems have many common characteristics. They are open and adaptive. They include their own sources of innovation – for example, through sexual reproduction – by which they improve and respond to a changing environment. They take advantage of distributed cognition rather than central decision-making.
The whole is greater than its parts, usually because of a combination of specialisation and exchange (of genes, ideas, or services). Success is easier to explain in retrospect than it is to predict in advance. Successful systems adapt through feedback, which amplifies successful innovation and kills off ineffective change: for example, survival of the fittest allows good genetic variations and combinations to reproduce; in markets, bankruptcy eliminates firms that fail.