Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) are made up of elements that respond and adapt to their environment. Think about a school of fish responding to a current or predator. The individual fish react in a way that results in the school’s response that has some sort of meaning, like survival. Although, taking the idea to an unrealistic extreme, the school of fish in “Finding Nemo” offers a fun way to visualize this individual/group behavior. Unlike simple or simpler systems, like thermostats, which can be controlled by feedback loops, the behavior of CAS is more of an emergent property. No one fish, (that we know of) is telling the other fishes what to do, rather they follow a few simple rules and a similar vision. Notice how the rules they follow involve the relationships they have with each other:
(1) avoid collisions
(2) match speeds with your neighbors
(3) move toward the center of mass of your neighbours.
I believe this relationship piece is important because it helps us understand and potentially promote positive human behavior in groups, teams, organizations and even societies. In healthcare, collaboration is so important to safe care!
Geese offer us another example. Envision a field of geese resting, eating, perhaps on their way south.
BANG! A Shotgun goes off…
At first there is CHAOS…
The geese are all headed in the same direction and following a few simple rules, much like the fish. Their beautiful pattern emerges as they respond or adapt to the situation as individuals in relationship AND as part of a group. Watch this 2+ min YouTube and think about the movement of individual birds and the flock here.
What Intuitive Leap Can We Take re: Human Behavior?
As a nurse who specializes in communication, emotional intelligence, group dynamics, and leadership, I have come to believe that how we behave in groups depends on our ability to express ourselves and set limits, listen to and respect those of others, and the vision that leaders inspire and guide. When the relationships in the group are healthy, the behavior of individuals and the group is too. This is why the training and practice of giving and receiving feedback is so vital to team development and ultimately patient safety! If this topic is interesting to you, you might enjoy reading the 10 page appendix from the Institute of Medicine’s Crossing the Quality Chasm called, Redesigning Health Care with Insights from the Science of Complex Adaptive Systems by Paul Plsek.
You may also be interested in learning more about the experiential learning that Medical Improv workshops offer. This is an exciting new way to teach communication, emotional intelligence, and relationship skills!