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Complex Adaptive Systems

Miriam Huitric talks about Complex Adaptive Systems from the perspective of the Climate Crisis.
So how do we understand and find solutions- -to the problems that we have with the Great Acceleration? Well, before we do that, we need to understand the nature of the problem a little bit better.
To understand the problem, it’s important to have some systems understanding. That’s a little bit abstract, but I think I have some good examples here in front of me. What do I have? Some cake, a space rocket, and some childhood photographs. Let’s start on the simpler end. Let’s talk about a cake as a system. Now, some recipes might be very complicated, but once you’ve mastered certain techniques- -and if you’ve followed the instructions step-by-step and properly- -you know what to expect at the end. This is a system where there is high predictability and control.
The next system I’ve thinking of is a space rocket, the picture is also a cake- -but if we were building a space rocket going to the Moon- -then we are actually dealing with a complex system. A complex system has many parts, and they all interact. And when you are building it, you’ll have multiple groups of people- -solving different types of problems for the different functions we need on the spaceship- -and then putting this all together, so it works as a whole. Once you are able to get a space rocket up to the Moon- -then you actually have a blueprint to make new models, or new versions, of that space rocket.
Here we have a complex problem, because there are lots of different challenges- -that need to be answered and addressed, and our solutions to them need to work together- -when you bring them together. But once you achieve that, you have a blueprint. So you start with very low predictability and control of the system- -but in the end, you have high predictability and high control. The third example is a complex and adaptive system. Here, a fantastic example is having a child. These are pictures of my daughter. As her mother, I see my daughter here through the photographs- -through her different ages and times, but it would be wrong for me to say- -that my system has not changed.
She’s very different through the years in these photographs- -and very different from who she is today. That’s because her system is complex, has many parts that interact- -but it is also adaptive. It’s changing all the time. And some of those are biological changes. Her body will grow. It has different functions that develop over time. Some of those changes are supported by the interactions outside of her body. She eats, she will go outside. Other functions are fulfilled at another layer that I provide. If she’s ill, I’ll take to the doctor. I will send her to school. She will interact with friends. She might have lots of experience that are outdoors or maybe at the theatre.
All of these different engagements affect her and change her. And as a parent, the way I manage my system, or care for my daughter, will change over time. Some things remain the same. I’ll feed her, send her to school, send her to the doctor. But even those change. Both because her needs change- -and as she becomes increasingly independent. My parenting today looks very different to how it looked when she was just a few months old.
But there’s more. Come, I’ll tell you about that.
So there are a few more things about complex adaptive systems that we need to understand. First, let’s look at the complex side. Like I said, it’s that we have many parts…
…and these are all interconnected in some way.
That means they interact. Now, the complex adaptive side of this system is that each of these parts- -are changing, evolving or adapting. So, the parts are constantly in slight change. This means that the whole system is also changing over time. Now this connection means that we can get what we call surprises. And the reason is because we could have a change here- -that suddenly creates an unexpected change over here. And that is because of these interactions. Some of these interactions will happen faster along some of the paths- -than along others, which adds to the surprise. So, this explains why we get surprises in these systems, and unexpected outcomes.
Also, if we start to manage this one- -we can get surprises that we were not expected from our management, that come out over here. The other aspect with complex adaptive systems is because they’re constantly changing- -they don’t necessarily keep what we can call their identity. If we stress or change the system too much by for example moving parts out of it…
…the whole system can be pushed over what we call a tipping point- -where we have changed the basic components and conditions for that system. And it will move and change into a completely new system. That’s called a tipping point. And tipping points are important to understand- -because they are one key characteristic of complex adaptive systems. Let’s go back to the kitchen, and let me show you.

To tackle climate change we must understand complex adaptive systems because they have features we need to understand if we want to make a change in the right direction. Miriam Huitric presents 3 systems to demonstrate why these features matter.

This video was filmed on location in a kitchen in Stockholm, Sweden.

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