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The Consolations of Complexity

Tom Morgan
October 01, 2022

The Consolations of Complexity

Learning about complexity has changed the way I think about what I do. It's helped me appreciate why certain ways of working feel more effective and more natural to me. It's helped me act (and not act) more decisively. It's helped me better understand the weird, sometimes irrational world of government. Above all, it's made me feel a whole lot better and more positive about stuff.

First given at SDinGov - 29th September 2022

Tom Morgan

October 01, 2022

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  1. The Consolations of Complexity SDinGov — 29th September 2022

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  3. Tom Morgan Lead Designer

  4. previously… on Tom’s career

  5. the consolations of complexity @tsmz • a lot of time

    working on web things • a lot of time advocating for UCD • a lot of time failing to do it before 2015
  6. I started working in Government 2015

  7. the consolations of complexity @tsmz • sense of purpose •

    lots of open goals for design • fit my skills & experience • the argument had been won
  8. Then things started to get hard

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  13. complicated /ˈkɒmplɪkeɪtɪd/ adjective 1. consisting of many interconnecting parts or

    elements; intricate. "a complicated stereo system" complex /ˈkɒmplɛks/ adjective 1. consisting of many different and connected parts. "a complex network of water channels"
  14. Rainforest / Ferrari

  15. It’s like the difference between, say, a Ferrari and the

    Brazilian rainforest. Ferraris are complicated machines, but an expert mechanic can take one apart and reassemble it without changing a thing. The car is static, and the whole is the sum of its parts. The rainforest, on the other hand, is in constant flux—a species becomes extinct, weather patterns change, an agricultural project reroutes a water source—and the whole is far more than the sum of its parts. This is the realm of ‘unknown unknowns,’ and it is the domain to which much of contemporary business has shifted.” — Dave Snowden “
  16. The Cynefin Framework

  17. kuh-NEV-in (WELSH WORDS FTW BTW) “habitat” “place of your multiple

  18. The Cynefin Framework

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  24. How does this relate to my work?

  25. problems anyone could probably solve, admin & logistics problems I

    can solve using my knowledge of design, my skills and expertise as a designer. problems I solve with user-centred design, eg. user research, prototypes, hypotheses, iteration & co-design etc JFDI
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  27. The organisation around me was acting as if the problem

    was complicated
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  29. what is complexity?

  30. the consolations of complexity @tsmz chaos theory

  31. the consolations of complexity @tsmz strange patterns and unpredictable behaviour

  32. complex adaptive systems

  33. nonlinear dynamics

  34. cause effect

  35. cause effect

  36. cause effect

  37. cause effect

  38. cause effect effect effect effect

  39. the consolations of complexity @tsmz everything is in constant flux

  40. the consolations of complexity @tsmz everything affects everything else

  41. ecosystems

  42. the consolations of complexity @tsmz susceptible to feedback loops

  43. stock markets

  44. the consolations of complexity @tsmz things are unpredictable

  45. emergence

  46. None
  47. the consolations of complexity @tsmz there is no central control,

    no leader
  48. the consolations of complexity @tsmz whole is more than the

    sum of the parts
  49. None
  50. “The entire mound—insects plus structure—is thus a living thing: a

    self-regulating physiological and cognitive system, with a sense of its own boundaries, a memory, and a kind of collective intentionality.”
  51. emergent properties complex adaptive systems entangled constantly changing unpredictable nonlinear

    feedback loops self- organising uncontrollable
  52. None
  53. the consolations of complexity @tsmz is the design of government

    services a complex problem?
  54. the consolations of complexity @tsmz is the organisation I’m working

    in a complex system?
  55. government is a complex system

  56. the consolations of complexity @tsmz • my place within it

    • the work I was doing • the effect it would have
  57. working in a complex environment

  58. we expect problems to be like dragons that once slain

    will leave us to live happily ever after
  59. the consolations of complexity @tsmz problems are perennial, ever changing

    and need constant attention
  60. gardening the problem

  61. we expect success to be something that will happen at

    some point in the future
  62. the consolations of complexity @tsmz we cannot control the future

    so we must think differently about success
  63. success as balance

  64. We expect to clearly see the results of the things

    we do
  65. the consolations of complexity @tsmz we might never know the

    effects we’ve caused, but we will always have an effect
  66. a butterfly flaps its wings

  67. We expect the thing that worked last time to work

    again this time
  68. the consolations of complexity @tsmz the same cause could have

    a different effect, but also new opportunities to affect things will always arise
  69. the same river twice

  70. None
  71. “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” — George

  72. the consolations of complexity @tsmz All user needs are wrong

    but some are useful
  73. the consolations of complexity @tsmz All personas are wrong but

    some are useful
  74. the consolations of complexity @tsmz All prototypes are wrong but

    some are useful
  75. the consolations of complexity @tsmz All maps are wrong but

    some are useful
  76. useful needs balance

  77. useful keeps changing

  78. useful needs constant attention

  79. useful in ways you didn’t expect

  80. the consolations of complexity @tsmz All metaphors are wrong but

    some are useful
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  82. the consolations of complexity @tsmz They are undoubtedly wrong but

    they have been useful in enabling me to maintain a little bit of that initial optimism and resilience in the face of the complexity of Government.
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  84. the consolations of complexity @tsmz thank you! @tsmz