Self organization – It’s the frikkin law

July 3, 2010

Ok, why wasn’t I told about this before? I was probably one of the last people in the world to find out about it. But what an epiphany when I did find out about Ashby’s law of requisite variety. It seems so intuitive that it bothers me it’s not called Morgan’s law of requisite variety.

“If a system is to be stable the number of states of its control mechanism must be greater than or equal to the number of states in the system being controlled.”
or
“The larger the variety of actions available to a control system, the larger the variety of perturbations it is able to compensate.”

Of course! If we want to control something we need at least as many degrees of freedom as the system under consideration. Why on earth didn’t I see that. Well now that it has been brought to my attention it makes several things so much clearer. One of the most important implications that comes to mind is self organization. If we want to handle a complex problem, we’ll need to be able parry it’s possible moves. Giving one manager the responsibility to handle a complex project leaves us to the mercy of his/her limited model of the world. Giving an entire team the responsibility to handle the same project gives us an almost infinite number of possible combinations of experiences more fit to handle the whims of a chaotic world.

The agile movement helped me realize the benefits of self organization several years ago but Ashby just recently gave me the actual proof for why it’s working.

So to paraphrase that old t-shirt slogan:
Self organization – it’s not just a good idea; it’s the law.

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