21 April 2010


I recently got turned on to John Robb's fascinating Global Guerillas blog. As I've perused the site, one line in particular jumped out at me. Commenting on social and economic collapse, John writes about a "system that collapses when it begins to succumb to diseconomies of complexity."

I think the concept of collapse caused by the diseconomics of complexity is brilliant, not just because I'm a word geek and love a well-turned phrase, but also because it perfectly describes an aspect of The Simplicity Cycle which I'd never really considered before. Specifically, it describes a common way for a large entity to leave the upper-left quadrant, aka the Region of the Complicated, where complexity is high and goodness is low (check out the Simplicity Cycle link above if you don't know what I'm talking about).

I generally describe two ways to proceed from this situation (of high complexity & low goodness). One is to simplify, and the other is to scrap the whole thing and start over. From a design perspective, there are many practices and principles for doing the first option. The second option takes guts and is called a smart move when it's deliberate... but it's called collapse when it happens even though nobody really meant for it to happen. And frankly, if we don't do it with purpose, it eventually happens whether we wanted it to or not.

It just makes me wonder whether the defense acquisition business will figure out a way to deliberately simplify before the diseconomies of complexity completely take over and things begin to collapse in a big way.

1 comment:

Dick Field said...

Your last paragraph: I have been wondering about that since I was reinstated as a Government Series 1102 Contract Specialist several years ago (after a long hiatus in the private sector). Now that I am in policy, I am wondering it even more.