Some proponents of the Agile movement have tried to associate Agile ideas and practices with the emerging science of complexity (see, for example, [Appelo 2010]). At first glance, this is a plausible connection because in software development, (project) management, and organizations in general, we often have to deal with “complex” (= not simply “complicated”) problems.
But, on closer examination, the paradigm of (social) complexity isn´t easy to grasp. It´s rather a “tricky beast” because it seems to be as complex as the phenomena (that is, self-organizing dynamic systems and networks) to be studied themselves. This means (see also [Wikipedia 2016a,b]):
- Many definitions: There is no universally accepted definition of “complexity” or of a “complex system”. And, for various reasons, there will never be such a consensus among complexity researchers. This is true for related key notions such as “system”, “emergence”, “self-organization / autopoiesis”, etc., too.
- Multitude of features: There is an open-ended list of features that may characterize a “complex system”.
- Complexity is relative: Complexity can be interpreted as a phenomenon that is in the eye of the beholder. In short, it´s observer-dependent.
- Transdisciplinary: There are many scientific disciplines (computer science, physics, biology, psychology, economics, sociology, etc.) involved so that a universal consensus among complexity researchers about the tools, methods, theories, and concepts to be used is unlikely. This means further:
First, it´s impossible to give a thorough account of the paradigm of complexity.
Second, a certain degree of ignorance and non-communication among complexity researchers is to be expected because of various epistemological, theoretical, methodological, and conceptual obstacles that might sometimes be too hard to overcome.
- Multiple subdisciplines: Even within a single scientific discipline such as sociology there are various subdisciplines (computational sociology, relational sociology, social network analysis, sociocybernetics, etc.) that are studying complex phenomena.
- Multiple approaches: Within each subdiscipline such as sociocybernetics there are various approaches (systems and form theory, 2nd order cybernetics, etc.) with different theoretical options.
- Multiple epistemologies: The guiding distinction in this context is constructivism vs realism. But, there isn´t a single constructivist (or realist) position. Instead, there are many variations of them.
In the following blog posts related to this intro text, I´d like to focus on some of the aspects mentioned above:
- I´ll start with the definition and feature problems regarding complexity in general (= The Paradigm of (Social) Complexity – Part II: Definitions and Features of Complexity)
- After that, I´ll narrow the focus and discuss the sociocybernetic approach, esp. the Bielefeld school of sociological systems theory (Niklas Luhmann et al.) related to social complexity (= The Paradigm of (Social) Complexity – Part III: Sociocybernetics).
This sociocybernetic intro will be quite short because I intend to publish several blog posts later on that discuss many aspects in more detail (concepts of system, models of communication, social emergence as communication, etc.).
- And, finally, I´ll present the position of operative constructivism and non-dualism that is crucial for the sociocybernetic / systems theoretical approach presented in this blog (= The Paradigm of (Social) Complexity – Part IV: Operative Constructivism and Part V: Non-Dualism).
- [Appelo 2010] Appelo, J. (2010), Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders, Amsterdam: Addison-Wesley Longman.
- [Wikipedia 2016a] Wikipedia (2016a), Complex Systems, URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_systems [accessed Febr 24, 2016].
- [Wikipedia 2016b] Wikipedia (2016b), Social Complexity, URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_complexity [accessed Febr 24, 2016].