Complex adaptive system theory seems to be too complex to grasp, for me. One person can’t know everything, one perspective is not enough.
Patterns evolve, it’s not predictions, it’s identifying patterns.
Does this have any application to the real world? I mean, as an individual, if I know something about Complex Adaptive System Theory, will the knowledge be useful for me?
For example, if I was a nurse manager, how might Complex Adaptive System Theory be helpful for me? Let’s ask a nurse, shall we.
Let’s ask Pat Ebright, a Nurse Manager, from Gonzaga University.
Thomas: What is Complex Adaptive System Theory for you?
Pat: “It’s like having a new lens, a new door to walk through to see things.”
Thomas: How do you mean that?
Pat: “For example, you could ask people to do something. A failure to accomplish a given task didn’t mean they couldn’t do the task, or didn’t want to do the task.
Thomas: So, you are saying there was something else going on. What could that be?
Pat: “You can walk down a nursing floor, down the hall, and pick up on the dynamics. One thing at the end of the hall could affect something at the middle and…
Thomas: (interrupting) And then that could in turn affect something else in some other place and on and on..
Pat: “Yes. The way someone looks, happy or frustrated, may not be related to what they are doing at that moment. It’s related to everything that has been going on around them, how everyone has been interacting with one another.”
Thomas: So, this means everything that happens and everyone is affecting what we are seeing, but the connection is to things that have happened at some point in time prior to this moment.
Pat: “Yes. Complex Adaptive System Theory is about just that. One part of the system, or something happening somewhere, affects multiple other places within the system. It could be just one person, being affected by something that happens close to them, or one person who has a thought about what they left at home that isn’t pleasant, and now it’s affecting their presentation, etc.”
Thomas: So, what exactly does Complex Adaptive systems explain for you?
Pat: “It explains why I can’t think linearly to understanad what’s going on. It also helps me with a framework of why I can’t then find solutions – linearly – without using a framework that explains interrelationships and the dynamism, and what makes things work that way – in real work.”
Thomas: So, what’s the whole idea here?
Pat: “Relationships, things evolve, they don’t stay the same, they’re constantly changing. One little change, here, can make a dramatic change in the overall system, that you can’t anticipate sometimes or prepare for.”
Thomas: Could you explain this to me, Pat, like I’m an 8-year-old? I am getting more confused than before I talked to you.
Pat: “Sure Thomas. Imagine a nurse who worked a terrible shift. Nothing is going well, but you manage to get most of the things done that you know are important.”
Thomas: OK. We all have days like that, from time to time.
Pat: “So you get home, and your partner says, How was work?”
Thomas: Your partner, who is not a nurse or medical professional, just asked the question, to be nice. Do you tell the truth?
Pat: “Of course. You say: I had a terrible day. Everything was wrong and nothing was the way it should have been. first, this happened. After that, that happened, And if that wasn’t already bad enough, then this happened, and we hadn’t been able to do what we wanted to do, so we did what we had to do.”
Thomas: Is the partner really listening to all that? 🙂
Pat: “Of course not. Their eyes are glazed over and they have rolled in their sockets to the back of their heads. It’s toomuch to comprehend.”
Thomas: Why is it too difficult to understand?
Pat: “Because there is no way to help the partner capture the feelings and the emotion, what it was like to be in this terrible day at work. It’s almost impossible to do.”
Thomas: Thank you Pat. I believe you just told me that Complex Adaptive Systems Theory is dynamic, constantly changing, highly interelated, highly dependent on a multitude of interacting relationships.
Thomas: That characteristic makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for one person to grasp everything that produces any given outcome.
Pat: Yes, Thomas.
Thomas: Thank you, Pat. It has been fantastic learning from you how it applies to you as a nurse manager, and I see how it would also apply to me as a teacher. Thinking in a linear manner is insufficient to adequately deal with a situation. One has to try to delve deeper into things, that’s my take away from this.