People, Companies, and Supply Chains as Complex Adaptive Systems

John Holland argued complex adaptive systems (CAS) are systems that demonstrate coherence under change. They are made up of a large number of agents that are diverse in form and capability. And these same agents adapt by changing the rules under which they live, as personal experience accumulates.



It seems like today, as we face a new world because of COVID-19, people, companies, and supply chains are going to have to learn to behave like CAS. As individuals, we are certainly accumulating experiences as to what it's like to live in a locked down world. We've had to adapt to changing rules and we will have to define new rules to exist by if we are to move into the future. As a company, much of our market may not return so we too will need to adapt to changing rules and define new rules. My suspicion is we'll have to define new markets and new ways of doing business if we are to grow again. And supply chains will have to start doing the same.



Will we make it? Time will tell. It was Stephen Wolfram I believe, who argued that cellular automata systems exist in four states. One state was where systems emerge and die out, a second was systems that reached a stable state and never changed. A third state was those systems that went into chaos and stayed chaotic. But there was this fourth state, what he called "The Edge of Chaos" that existed in a thin landscape between stability and chaos and it was here that these systems were the most dynamic, most evolving, and survived the most successfully.



It seems like this "Edge of Chaos" is a metaphor and perhaps a guide for where we need to go as people, organizations, and supply chains. In a VUCA world, it's likely we as supply chain professionals will need to constantly change and adapt, companies will need to constantly change and adapt, and as supply chains we'll need to do the same.


In my next series of posts I'll write more about what the characteristics are of CAS, but I want to challenge everyone from you, to your company, to your supply chain to think about what are the rules we will have to change, and what the new rules will have to be. And don't forget, CAS are constantly changing and adapting, so the rules won't stick around very long before they may become worthless and a new set has to emerge

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