The best way to express my thoughts on systems is through metaphor. Through metaphor systems become what they are… alive. The complex adaptive systems, hard to express in a linear format, take shape through mental or physical images. The sensations and feelings a metaphor conjures up are an expression of a system’s multiple connections and nodes acting upon one another. Frisbee is a metaphor that helps me look at complex adaptive systems from the 10,000-foot level to the microscopic.
Ultimate Frisbee is a sport played by two teams with seven players on the field at a time. It is a mix of soccer and football. Frisbee is a complex adaptive system. There are several variables and forces acting upon the player, team, and game. A player can only control themselves and their reactions to circumstances. Once a disc is thrown the wind acts upon it, defenders try to create a turn over, and someone must catch the disc. When a player catches the disc they look to throw it. As a player I cannot control what other players do but I know them well and their abilities. This allows me to choose a variety of options to put the disc in the best position for my teammate. In this system many variables are acting for and against obtaining the goal. The objective of a team is to be in the best position(s) for success. We positively influence the system by understanding our connections and their preferences within the context of other parts then controlling our reactions.
Collaboration is systemic approach to organizational improvement. By understanding the forces and relationships collaborators are able to use levers to influence and affect the system. When people understand the system they are able to put themselves and others in the best position for success.
This article is part of a larger series entitled The Anatomy of Collaboration