Glenda Eoyang, PhD
Founding Executive Director, Human Systems Dynamics Institute
My particular take on complexity and systems is called human systems dynamics (HSD). It is a field of theory and practice that applies principles of complex adaptive systems to help people see, understand, and influence emergent patterns in complex human systems. HSD is applicable at all scales of human experience from intrapersonal reflection and cognition through global patterns of economic and cultural interaction (Eoyang, 1997). For more information about the models and methods of HSD, visit our website www.hsdinstitute.org. Here, I would like to introduce the basic features of the theory and practice that form the foundation of HSD.
HSD theory is drawn from the field of complex adaptive systems (Dooley, 1997). In this approach, a system is defined as a collection of agents that interact to generate system-wide patterns. Those patterns then constrain the behavior of agents in future cycles of interaction. The process is called emergence or self-organization (Baranger, et al, 2006).
A variety of interesting and relevant natural phenomena can be understood from this systems perspective. Uncertainty is, perhaps, the most significant feature of a complex adaptive system. Regardless of the amount of information available, the future of an open, high dimension, nonlinear complex system cannot be predicted. Self-organized criticality explains discontinuous change over time. Non-Gaussian, Power Law data distributions are explained through interactions within and across scales of the system (Bak, 1996). Dissipative structures explain how orderly relationships appear to be generated spontaneously in systems with open boundaries (Prigogine, et al, 2017). Drawing from a variety of perspectives in the complexity sciences, my research defined three conditions that influence the speed, path, and products of self-organizing processes in human systems (Eoyang, 2001). Short descriptions and citations for sources that inform HSD are accessible here https://bit.ly/CircleofSciences.
Complexity science has informed a whole generation of social and human systems change literature (Eoyang, 2011). The practice of HSD contributes to that body of work. The purpose of HSD is captured in our vision: People everywhere thrive because we see patterns clearly, seek to understand, and act with courage to transform turbulence and uncertainty into possibility for all. We have developed a variety of models and methods to help individuals and teams interact with and influence complex systems in which they work and play, while remembering that the future is ultimately unpredictable and uncontrollable (Eoyang & Holladay, 2013).
Bak, P. (1996). How nature works: The science of self-organized criticality. New York, NY, USA: Copernicus.
Baranger M., Kauffman S., Stanley E., Levin S., Clark D. (2006) Emergence. In: Minai A.A., Bar-Yam Y. (eds) Unifying Themes in Complex Systems. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg
Dooley, K. (1997). “A complex adaptive systems model of organization change.” Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and the Life Sciences, 1: 69-97.
Eoyang, G. H. (1997). Coping with Chaos: SEVEN simple tools. Cheyenne, WY: Lagumo.
Eoyang, G. (2001). Conditions for Self-Organizing in Human Systems. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. The Union Institute and University.
Eoyang, G. H. (2011). Complexity and the Dynamics of Organization Change. In P. Allen, S. Maguire, & B. McKelvey (Authors), The sage handbook of complexity and management (pp. 319-354). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.
Eoyang, G., Holladay, R. (2013). Adaptive action: Leveraging uncertainty in our organization. Stanford University Press.
Prigogine, I., Stengers, I., & Toffler, A. (2017). Order out of chaos: Man’s new dialogue with nature. London: Verso.
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