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31 January 2022

Emergence and Non-Linearity for Military Decision-Making

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Original blog post can be found here: https://benzweibelson.medium.com/emergence-and-non-linearity-for-military-decision-making-19b7cfdc554a

This is an excerpt from a design monograph that addresses design, NATO operational planning and Joint planning methodologies (NATO-OPP, JPP, and various service-specific deviations therein). This monograph is pending publication and was produced through the Joint Special Operations University where the author is a design educator (contractor) for the U.S. Special Operations Command. The title of the monograph is: Disrupting Modern Military Decision-Making: Deconstructing Institutionalized Rituals through Design Synthesis.”

ne significant aspect of complexity theory and systemic thinking is that of ‘emergence.’ With the deconstruction of NATO-OPP and JPP already covered in-depth, modern military forces appear to overlook the primary qualities of complex adaptive systems regarding how and why it approaches decision-making and strategic design for military activities. Complexity theory rejects most of the attempts that analytically reductionist models such as COG and SWOT analysis attempt as well as techniques such as CARVER, capabilities/capacity considerations as well as stakeholder analysis, yet modern military decision-making appears to mask the classical mechanics underpinnings by assimilating select terms into established, rigid practices. Militaries should instead consider how actual complexity theory concepts violate most everything that NATO-OPP/JPP concepts such as COGs and SWOT analysis offer concerning actual complex security contexts in reality. Emergence is paramount for realizing how complexity and systemic thinking differs from other modes (such as a Newtonian Style) of interpreting reality. Contemporary armed forces should consider how to restructure their decision-making methodologies toward how emergence functions well beyond the oversimplifications currently presented in NATO-OPP and JPP reasoning.

Emergence is an important element of complexity theory, systems theory as well as novel disciplines and fields that are in opposition to established classical mechanics constructs, and in many ways appears paradoxical. Tsoukas reinforces this sentiment on promoting a dialogical approach to the creation of new knowledge that militaries should consider in how NATO-OPP/JPP practices provide perceived value to their institution. “Novel combinations create new categories to describe or bring about changes in something familiar…the new concept may have emergent attributes, that is, attributes that are different from those of either of the constituent parts.”[1]This means that over-reliance on historical precedent as a primary indicator of tomorrow’s challenges will lock an organization into expecting novelty to be recognizable using historical frames, and explainable using the very language of yesterday’s world that lacked the emergent novel development.

Emergence is important for design consideration in that the legacy or original context that generated the change does not itself possess the ability to explain it. This means that outside of simplistic and perhaps some complicated systems contexts, the systematic logic of pre-established ‘input-output’ thinking that provides ‘problem-solution’ formation within ‘ends-ways-means’ constructs is flawed. The establishment of a ‘solution’ coupled to a future single ‘end state’ within a complex system implies linear causality where ‘A plus B will lead to C’ systematically so that a military might reverse-engineer all possible problems with known solutions already in their curated knowledge. Emergence denies this (except in closed systems of stable, simplistic settings), where complex systems generate novel developments that cannot be pre-configured, paired with historic solutions, or anticipated and mapped back to direct, linear causations. The modern military emphasis on capturing ‘lessons learned’ and ‘best practices’ highlight another example of this tension between complexity and complicated or simple system behavior.

For example, analytic reductionism can take a glass of water and isolate every water molecule down to individual ones, yet at some unmeasurable point in assembling molecules together, ‘wetness’ emerges from what had previously not been capable of being understood as ‘wet.’ Emergent properties deny the analytic, rationalized tools of prediction, control, as well as description in most cases. NATO and Joint Forces thus must not just think toward the strategic focus or objective for various security activities in terms of political or institutional expectations at present, but inward at the institution and individual strategist’s own logic, belief system, biases, and at how being part of a dynamic and complex system one cannot project one design methodology or model upon all possible emergent contexts. Complex systems are nonlinear; “there is no proportionality between cause and effects. Small causes may give rise to large effects. Nonlinearity is the rule, linearity is the exception.”[2] Yet, modern military forces use methodologies such as NATO-OPP/JPP where all analytical methods express a complex security context in clear, simplistic and linear ‘cause-effect’ relationships. Emergence is discounted in NATO-OPP/JPP, as is nonlinear and emergent phenomena and relationships which again are foundational to how complex systems differ from complicated and simple systems.

The process of emergence deals with this fundamental question in complex systems theory: “how does an entity come into existence whereas previously it did not exist, and the system had no understanding or idea of it?”[3]When emergence occurs, one can observe something such as the appearance of new or unrecognized order, organizational form, or novel structure/action that does not have a clear causal relationship with the earlier system (when the emergence did not yet exist!). Something comes into reality, and observers struggle to explain how this happened while unable to clearly associated inputs and outputs or frame a linear path for the emergent event.

Complex systems are fractal (where irregular forms have strange patterns that appear scale dependent), and no single measurement or equation can ever work beyond specific and temporary contexts; “there is no single measurement that will give a true answer.” It will depend on the measuring device, and how and where one applies it. Complex systems demonstrate what is termed ‘recursive symmetries’ that occur between scale levels; this means “they tend to repeat a basic structure at several [different] levels.”[4] Consider how the spiral swirl of cream in a coffee operates and presents like how hurricanes form, a flock of birds spiral in formation, and how a galaxy rotates despite all of these phenomena being unrelated. NATO-OPP nor JPP do not have any models or theoretical underpinnings to incorporate this, yet modern military forces evaluate and decide on security activities applied to dynamic, complex systems in most every execution.

Image source: https://twitter.com/RafeelRiaz/status/1166388790132400128

Emergence in complexity is the observation of an effect that lacks a sufficiently clear or apparent “cause” as normally understood in how the system behaved previously (the legacy state of that system). Due to the very nature of emergent things and events, new language and concepts must be created to address the emergence, along with new methods, practices, and even entire transformations of what was previously the established system. Emergence is essentially paradoxical- the emergent properties remain changeless but also changing; they are unpredictable yet inevitable in every type of system. Emergence is both independent from the system from which it generates or arises, but also entirely dependent upon it. Complex systems are sensitive to initial conditions where even exceedingly small activities might propel a system off into dramatic transformations that will express in nonlinear, emergent, and dynamic fashion.

Complex systems also are prone to become unpredictable, moving in ways and patterns that “are not reducible in the previous description of the system’s behavior. These emergent novelties represent points of bifurcation.”[5] This means that nearly all of the analytical models, language and logic featured in NATO-OPP and JPP do not really address complexity. Rather, they relegate a complex reality down to a complicated or even simple system framing so that established Newtonian rationale concerning warfare can continue to be utilized. Military activities are therefore inappropriately understood in a manner that permits ‘A plus B leads to C’ logic for linear-causal (systematic) analysis.

Emergence is both an effect, an event and new process where the cause is not visible or readily apparent. When we question what emergence is, we really are thinking about causation and causality. In simple systems, the cause links directly to the effect in a clear “input-output” relationship that is reliable, uniform, predictable, and controlled. This encourages systematic logic; the sort of systems thinking where standard operating procedures and best practices really work well.[6] However, there are some weak forms of emergence that do occur in simple or complicated system settings, such as in a closed system frame where a physical target (a hardened bunker) is struck by an explosive projectile, or a tactical end-state is accomplished with employing a drone strike on a selected individual tracked to a known physical location. “Simple emergence”[7] is defined as a fixed, machine-like system where emergence only occurs in a set behavior sort of manner.

In a system where each part has a fixed role and the total of the parts does equate to the larger whole, each part then becomes a specific and unchanging “cog in the machine.” In examples such as clocks, steam engines, a row of dominoes to be set into motion with a single push, or the piling effect of sand within an hourglass, the emergence occurring is deterministic and predictable despite some aspects still possessing emergent qualities. For modern military forces, linking inputs to related outputs in security activities for simple emergence will largely relate to tangible, nonliving objects being maneuvered, destroyed, degraded, or otherwise effected in objective, unintelligent (non-conscious) and nonliving things. Jamming an electronic signal, sensing radioactive elements in a location, striking a runway to crater it, or enabling a mechanical failure of a system remotely are all relevant contexts for this type of emergence.

Emergence must always mean some transformation from the earlier, legacy system into something new and different, even if the difference is incredibly slight. For example, consider how sand falls in an hourglass. The sand will always fall at an exact, predictable rate and each sand particle must fall from one part of the hourglass into the lower one, every time, always. The sand takes the same amount of time to completely empty from the top to the bottom vessel. These patterns are measurable quantitatively through analytical optimization and are repeatable. Yet as the sand falls and a pile of sand forms in the bottom portion, scientists are never able to accurately predict the formation and precise structure of any sand pile apart from that specific sand pile being created. It is random, and each time a sand pile is created, the formation of that sand pile is uniquely different from every other sand pile just as snowflake crystal formation renders all snowflakes unique. The ‘simple emergence’ here is that every time the hourglass is turned, an entirely new sand pile that is unlike any previous sand pile (at the granular level) forms in an emergent way. This occurs every time, in that while all snowflakes are quite similar at one scale, close examination shows that no two snowflakes are ever identical. Every formation of snow generates myriad and infinite combinations that are in a simple emergence, novel and unpredictable.[8]

Image source: https://www.freeimages.co.uk/galleries/objects/watch/slides/falling_sand.htm

The sand falling at a constant rate is predictable, while the sand pile itself is not. Although the sandpile regulates in a different form of self-stabilizing by collapsing piles of sand too steep to hold together, these too occur in unpredictable, unrepeatable ways where individual grains of sand systemically impact other grains far removed from one another, yet structured in complex and nonlinear relationships that emerge over time.[9] Snowflake unique generation is predictable at one level, while the ability to anticipate how the emergent flake will be different than others is unpredictable. A mechanical watch has similar ‘simple emergence’ qualities in that (assuming the watch has a day/month/year element): The gears within the watch each make the same precise, predictable movements to keep time- while the watch itself as a composition of those parts tells a new time that the watch has never “told” previously. The parts all equally demonstrate a second past nine o’clock p.m. on Tuesday in November, but this Tuesday in 2020 is the first time those watch parts have been in precise formation to “tell” this emergent moment in time. Each person ages into a new version of themselves with changes at the cellular and molecular level that are beyond their comprehension. Yet on a range of different scales, humans both ‘change and remain the same’ in a complex, emergent relationship that cannot be reduced into mathematical certainty.

‘Simple emergence’ is the minimum and often quite insignificant threshold of ‘emergence’ and is best framed within simple systems that have strong linear causality; problems with simple emergence can be “solved” using mathematical, engineering, and other scientific analysis or by drawing from established ‘best practices.’ A row of dominos falls, but each domino itself as a part of the system will fall precisely where it is expected to do so as part of the simple emergent process. Simple emergence is brittle; a single domino removed from the chain collapses the entire system and halts any emergence. The same is said for any disturbance in the hourglass, or one gear in a watch breaking; the entire watch stops, and it will cease telling time. ‘Weak emergence’ operates at a slightly higher level of complexity than simple emergence does, where there is ‘top-down feedback’ at the micro and macro levels.

Image source: https://greenerideal.com/news/environment/0219-incredible-photos-of-a-school-of-fish-looks-like-a-tornado/

Consider how a swarm of fish moves in the water, an ant colony explores an abandoned picnic site, or a dense flock of birds in flight move over the observer. Each bird, ant, or fish at their localized level (scale) only is aware and responding to others in their immediate proximity (micro-level). A school of fish, a flock of birds, and an ant colony all (as explained by swarm theory)[10] respond only to immediate or local actions and effects; one fish will turn left when several other fish turn left as well; this cascades through thousands of fish in a school that makes the entire group seem to turn together and in an instant.[11] The ant ‘queen’ knows nothing about the rest of the colony’s actions nor does the queen direct them. A drone bee on reconnaissance for a new hive location never visits other sites nor do they compare or contrast multiple possible locations, yet every time a hive collectively selects the optimal site available through only local, micro-level engagements.

This is of profound significance for modern military forces when considering how to visualize, manage and assess the wide range of defense activities across the NATO and Joint enterprises in complex security contexts. Militaries currently use NATO-OPP or JPP to reinforce centralized hierarchical command and control for decision-making for defense organizations conducting security activities, and each corresponding or subordinate security activity itself is articulated in a linear cause-effect context where systematic reasoning should justify the risk to commit resources, time, and energy on executing the action. Yet complex systems do not permit such manipulations, nor do they respond in kind to linear-casual expectations.

Many behaviors within a complex system are decentralized, have no ‘center’, and express in emergent, nonlinear fashion even when acted upon by a deliberate agent. In self-organized, decentralized systems[12] where simple emergence plays a key role, there is not one fish in charge directing the rest (centralized hierarchies); the school movements are emergent in that small effects at the micro-level (one fish sees a threat) cascades through the entire school to change direction of the entire group (macro level). Yet collectively (macro-level), the school is still moving toward some desired general objective (perhaps to feed, mate, or gain in safety) which at the macro-level influences each individual fish on general direction. A flock of birds migrate south for the winter (macro-level), yet immediate or local issues are dealt with locally by one bird that cascades to the flock (micro-level to macro-level). One can predict a flock will fly south, but it is impossible to predict the changing composition and position of the birds within that flock (weak emergence).

Weak emergence is indeed all around and manifesting in an infinite number of ways. Ant and bee colonies foraging for food exhibit another aspect of this weak emergence worth mentioning. Any colony has a number of ants or bees that are exploring for new food sources; these are usually called ‘scouts’ and are sent out in random directions, with all scouts featuring a diversity of direction and location to maximize a colony’s reach, but also this exploration and randomness is balanced by the colony’s macro-level need for unity, uniformity, order and the ability to exploit new opportunities. Thus, if a hundred explorer ants move outward randomly and avoid crossing paths (maximum diversity), and just one ant finds some delicious garbage, that ant returns to inform the colony. These activities are decentralized, emergent and not directed by any authority. The explorer does not radio back to the base to ask the queen ant whether certain exploitation criteria exist; the ant returns independently to the colony to relay the findings along with hundreds or thousands of other decentralized activities occurring across the collective.

Image source: https://gardenerspath.com/how-to/disease-and-pests/control-ants/

The colony then exploits that new source by rapidly channeling other ants with new jobs to ‘harvest and return’ the food in an orderly and predictably structured way. Anyone that discovers ants in their home know how this works. Once the food source is gone or the trail for directing that source is lost, the colony returns once more to other more divergent options (exploring, randomness, diversity). A stable balance occurs yet the colony functions emergently.[13] NATO and Joint Forces might consider how information collection and pattern analysis might be adapted to considering weak emergence for decision-making on various defense activities. Additionally, security professionals might incorporate ‘emergence’ in ways currently non-existent in military strategy, campaign planning and operational integration across diverse commands and security contexts using systemic logic to establish new models, methods, language, and theoretical underpinnings.

‘Multiple emergence’ is another expression of this broad, multifaceted concept that expresses at a higher level of complexity and is worth mentioning as well. This type of emergence can take on a condition where there is a combination of different types of weak and simple emergence that produce different patterns that are unlike lower forms of emergence (weak and simple considered separately or isolated in standard analytical practice). The way financial markets or ‘housing bubbles’ rise and fall reflect this, with positive and negative feedback loops therein.[14]Multiple emergent effects seem chaotic and entirely unpredictable, much in how the stock market cannot ever be accurately plotted nor can any gambler bet on games with absolute precision and certainty. Weather systems can only be weakly predicted a week or less out even with the most advanced technology available, while social trends such as fads, gimmicks, and what the next “new sound” will be in any musical genre is unpredictable and entirely emergent in how it unfolds. Military organizations as well as intelligence agencies struggle not in isolating specific activities and actors in short bursts of time to create direct and causal linkages, but in making sense and forecasting complex security contexts where this sort of emergence makes long-term, linear ‘lines of effort’ and associated operational or strategic reasoning misleading and counterproductive.

Yet ‘multiple emergence’ is not the only higher form of emergence worth considering for modern armed forces. There is ‘adaptive emergence’ and ‘tunneling’ that correspond to far more challenging forms of emergence that reject any linear, analytical, or systematic oriented methodology applied to them. Complex systems are dynamic, meaning they do not operate or flow in any orderly, linear, or sequential format. Instead, complex systems are nonlinear, almost randomized and with vastly sophisticated interdependence in parts and other sub-systems that prevent any sort of prediction or control.[15] Yet even with the dynamic nature of complex systems preventing any linear or causal reasoning as they unfold in time and space, a complex system adapts up until a point where some barrier prevents the system from developing further. For much of human history, societies only understood time in a local sense (the original purpose of all bell towers centrally located in population centers) until technology such as the steam engine permitted trains and ships to traverse large enough distances quickly so that time became out-of-synch in the localized sense.

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_zone

The invention of the ‘time zone’ was a necessity and emergent due to the confusion of people entering locations so rapidly that their sense of time from their departure was “wrong” in their arrival zone. This was simply impossible for humans of earlier civilizations without the emergence of steam power; the same occurred with the rise of the combustion engine or the telegraph. The development of the nuclear bomb changed warfare forever, and the rise of the computer stimulated emergent technological and social development leading to smart phones, social media, and one person having instantaneous access to more information on their phone than was available to anyone with even unlimited resources in any previous time. Modern militaries have access to more data than any military predecessor in history, yet adversaries also have the same advantage as well. Both operate within an ever-increasing fog of meta-data, activity and complex emergence with increasingly dangerous capabilities and capacities previously unimaginable (and unavailable) in past security contexts.

Systems also generate resistance to change, meaning that one type of emergence will be held back from expressing until certain conditions occur, triggering a dynamic and transformative form of emergence called ‘tunneling’. Tunneling occurs when a system builds up enough “pressure” to these barriers so that a sudden (often catastrophic) event can tunnel the system through the barrier and into significantly greater complexity and emergence.[16] Consider the development of the atomic weapon in World War II and the impact upon how nations approached warfare before and after its development. For all human history, groups sought advantages in the application of organized violence, whether it was a technological, physical, or conceptual form that provided the ability to defeat an adversary. An example of a technological barrier for atomic weaponry would be the necessary resources and scientific experiments to create and apply atomic energy in an offensive, destructive, and controlled manner. A physical barrier would be the massive amount of silver required in 1942 to quickly produce enough uranium-235 to have enriched bomb materials and nuclear fission.[17] A conceptual barrier was the understanding of nuclear physics which only became realized in Einstein’s transformative ideas in the first decade of the 20th Century.

Conventional (non-nuclear) war would continue until 1945 and despite World War II demonstrating that non-nuclear war could increase in scale, capacity, and capability for destruction beyond any previous conflict, atomic war would ‘tunnel’ emergence in a transformative, systemic manner. With the United States dropping two atomic bombs on Japan to terminate that conflict, it ushered in a new era of warfare that would lead to decades of a ‘Cold War’ and a nuclear arms race that continues today between adversarial nations able to accomplish nuclear fission. Tunneling emergence radically transforms a system into a new state that requires entirely novel developments that are unlike and unexplainable using legacy system language, models, or methods. Nuclear war (and the prevention, containment, and development associated with it) is distinct from earlier forms of warfare, requiring new strategies, policies, techniques, doctrine as well as organizational forms (such as the Army’s Pentomic Division experiment in the late 1950s).

One critical aspect of ‘emergent tunneling’ is that all the legacy forms of warfare remain just as significant and complex within the new, emergent system. Nations can and do engage in conventional warfare within the new atomic age, and all the earlier legacy concerns remain today just as they were in 1944 before atomics created the emergent system. However, within the new emergent system where nuclear weapons caused radical transformation and disruption, the added complexity of contemplating nuclear war is added on top of the previous legacy conflict concerns of conventional destruction. Tunneling is a radical expression of emergence in complex systems that transforms a system into something more complex and dynamic than the earlier version, and the systemic resistance that had prevented the tunneling will switch to another form of resistance to something different that later leads to another systemic transformation and tunneling unlike the atomic transformation.[18]

For one example of emergent tunneling that occurred entirely in the social consciousness, the example of high jumping can illustrate how ideas alone might prevent the attainment of shared goals in complex reality. High jumping as a sport emerged in the last decade of the 19th century with the revival of the Olympic games. The first technique to propel a human over a high bar by their own locomotion was called ‘the scissor jump’ and remains the preferred technique for elementary school children today. One leaps at the bar and ‘scissor kicks’ the legs to clear it. Early Olympic records went over six feet, but that technique had an upper limit due to the physics, biology, and human limitations within that method. Yet the institution rejected alternatives, and only when Stanford University high jumper George Horine used his alternative technique of ‘the Western roll’ to break the world record would the sport adapt his technique. Horine created it on accident due to his family’s backyard not allowing him to run up to the bar using the scissor method, and he experimented (and failed) with his alternative. His coaches urged him to stop using it, as Horine initially could jump higher with the older technique. Yet like all innovators, he persisted and eventually transformed the sport.

This would happen over and over through the 20th century, with the Western roll replaced by a Straddle technique where jumpers rotated their torsos, belly-down over the bar. That technique was rejected as well until jumpers began breaking the world record. By this point, jumpers cleared seven feet, five inches which was significantly higher than jumpers using the original scissor technique. Dick Fosbury, at Oregon State University, would completely change high jumping by twisting his body over the bar head and shoulders first, landing on thick padding not required by the other techniques. Again, the institution resisted and Fosbury endured perpetual insults by athletes and sports media as he honed the strange technique. In 1968, he won the gold medal and broke the world record, causing nearly all jumpers to shift to his ‘Fosbury flop’ approach.

Image source: https://www.worldathletics.org/news/feature/dick-fosbury-flop

What is unique about the high jump evolution is that there is no difference between athletes in the 1890s and the late 1960s. There is no technological difference in high jumping, as the same rules and objectives in 1890 maintain in 1968. The only difference is how high jumpers conceptualized the best way to approach propelling a human over a bar at their own locomotion. Were time travelers to visit the 1890s and bring the Fosbury flop technique with them, jumpers in the 1890s would likely ‘tunnel’ rapidly to shatter records that instead took decades and gradual institutional shifts in technique acceptance. The high jump evolution demonstrates how social, institutionalized resistance can slow down even the things that do not require any technological, resource or physical emergence. Today, military organizations have strong institutionalized belief systems that exist entirely in the conceptual realm, yet also resist innovative thinking.

[19] Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_jump#/media/File:1912_Platt_Adams5.JPG

The notion that complex systems feature emergence, and in adaptive emergence the very concepts that a group, organization or society are enforcing might become the barriers for transformation and change highlight how strategic design is both philosophical at an abstract level as well as systematic in logic. Unlike systematic logic (input-output, linear causality, mechanistic, analytical), systemic logic draws from multiple competing and paradoxical ways of understanding and acting. Systemic thinking requires multiple ways of thinking about systems, complexity, differences in objectivity and subjectivity, as well as the prioritization of paradox, nonlinearity, emergence, and innovation.

Modern militaries employ decision-making methodologies that cater exclusively to systematic logic for security activities instead of appreciating systemic logic and complexity in security affairs. There are some forms of complexity accepted within NATO and Joint doctrine and practices, but these appear limited by contemporary language, models, methods and accepted military theories on warfare. The first order of complexity is readily accepted by most- a hurricane forming off the coast of Florida is agreed as a complex system. Should that hurricane be somewhere no humans exist (For instance, the ‘Giant Spot’ on Jupiter is a massive centuries-old hurricane system where no humans have ever been), the system will behave uninterrupted and be a ‘complex system of the first order.’ There is no such thing as “problem” in first order complexity; there just “is” complexity. It is not until we introduce humans into the situation can one add yet another layer to an already complex system.

Complexity theorists Bousquet and Curtis offer that, “The study of social systems is further complicated by the reflexivity [or lack thereof] of actors capable of absorbing and adjusting to the very knowledge produced about them.”[20] When an organization is unable to lift themselves cognitively by ‘one’s own bootstraps’ to gaze upon our own dominant paradigm in action, that organization is essentially relying on unexamined or unacknowledged assumptions about reality. Gaining awareness of how one’s institutional frame for sensemaking and decision-making will enable important realizations such as triple loop learning, reflective practice, and social paradigm recognition that are featured in security design applications. With this last consideration of ‘emergence’, NATO and Joint Forces should consider a different way of realizing complex reality that differs from the dominant, institutionally sanctioned framework found in contemporary defense thinking.

This leads to what is termed ‘second order complexity’ in recent theoretical work on complexity, systems theory, and social sciences. Humans realizing the hurricane is coming toward Florida (first order complexity of a hurricane forming) triggers a rush on supermarkets and the panic shopping for toilet paper and other supplies, despite hardly any rational reason for Americans to over-stock these items. The first 60 days in March-April 2020 of the COVID pandemic saw similar world-wide panic shopping for toilet paper despite that item having little relation to an infectious disease. Thus, groups of humans take already complex situations, those that involve entrenched problems that have evolved over time, and often impose further complication due to their own organizational, cultural, ethical, and legal requirements. People take something complex (first order complete with all types of emergence) and add a new dimension of complexity (second order) that is constructed by humans and through their own cognitive barriers, structures, and belief systems.

Image source: https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Coronavirus/Taiwan-urges-no-panic-buying-as-new-COVID-19-rules-kick-off

Second order complexity operates on top of the first order complex system (physical reality) adding another emergent soup of objective, subjective, analytical, irrational, and paradoxical constructs, and interdependent relationships. The types of emergence articulated in this section operate both in the first order complexity as well as the second-order complexity manifested by human beings, and this is how and why complex warfare is so confounding and illusive for militaries to make sense of when their primary conceptualization tools are systematic, linear, mechanistic, and highly analytical. Strategic design aids security organizations in gaining a deeper, systemic picture in not just what we are doing, but how and why we are in the situations in which we find ourselves.[21] Here, attention is drawn to how one can better understand the systemic changes that occur within the areas of conflict or security emphasis to advance national and institutional opportunities for success. To finish with a reinforcement on emergence, the very notion of ‘success’ is not simplistic, optimized victory within a closed system. Success in complexity is about leveraging recognizable success as well as unrealized and novel ways to “succeed” at the desired future states (and unimagined ones that tunneled emergence may usher into reality) that security organizations aspire toward.

This excerpt is part of a larger monograph pending publication in 2022.

For more, follow Ben Zweibelson, subscribe to ‘Think JSOU’ on YouTube, consider JSOU courses, research and educational outreach by visiting https://www.jsou.us , and also connect with Ben on LinkedIn to learn more about this monograph and the planned publication in 2022.

[1] Haridimos Tsoukas, “A Dialogical Approach to the Creation of New Knowledge in Organizations,” Organization Science 20, no. 6 (December 2009): 946.

[2] Tsoukas and Hatch, “Complex Thinking, Complex Practice: The Case for a Narrative Approach to Organizational Complexity,” 988.

[3] Jochen Fromm, “Types and Forms of Emergence,” ArXiv: Adaptation and Self-Organizing Systems, June 13, 2005, 1–23; Hempel and Oppenheim, “On the Idea of Emergence”; John Holland, Emergence: From Chaos to Order (Reading, Massachusetts: Perseus Books, 1998); Paul Lewis, “Peter Berger and His Critics: The Significance of Emergence,” Springer Science+Business Media, Symposium: Peter Berger’s Achievement in Social Science, 47 (April 1, 2010): 207–13.

[4] Tsoukas and Hatch, “Complex Thinking, Complex Practice: The Case for a Narrative Approach to Organizational Complexity,” 988.

[5] Tsoukas and Hatch, 989.

[6] Paparone, “How We Fight: A Critical Exploration of US Military Doctrine”; Paparone, The Sociology of Military Science: Prospects for Postinstitutional Military Design; Ben Zweibelson, “One Piece at a Time: Why Linear Planning and Institutionalisms Promote Military Campaign Failures,” Defence Studies Journal 15, no. 4 (December 14, 2015): 360–75.

[7] For purposes of this basic design education, this definition combines Type 1 and Type 2 ‘simple emergence’ for brevity. The distinction between the two is that Type 1 has no feedback while Type 2 has a scale-preservation and peer-to-peer (parts in composition) feedback. The steam engine and watch are Type 1, while the hourglass sand is Type 2.

[8] Snowflake formation is unpredictable in that scientists know that each new flake will be different from all others, there is no way to predict how the emergent flake will be different from all others.

[9] Boisot and McKelvey, “Integrating Modernist and Postmodernist Perspectives on Organizations: A Complexity Science Bridge,” 423.

[10] Ben Zweibelson, “Let Me Tell You About the Birds and the Bees: Swarm Theory and Military Decision-Making,” Canadian Military Journal 15, no. 3 (Summer 2015): 29–36.

[11] Fromm, “Types and Forms of Emergence”; Holland, Emergence: From Chaos to Order; Holland, “Complex Adaptive Systems.”

[12] Russ Marion and Mary Uhl-Bien, “Complexity Theory and Al-Qaeda: Examining Complex Leadership,” Emergence 5, no. 1 (2003): 54–55.

[13] Zweibelson, “Let Me Tell You About the Birds and the Bees: Swarm Theory and Military Decision-Making.”

[14] Fromm, “Types and Forms of Emergence.”

[15] Bousquet and Curtis, “Beyond Models and Metaphors: Complexity Theory, Systems Thinking and International Relations”; Ysanne Carlisle and Elizabeth McMillian, “Innovation in Organizations from a Complex Adaptive Systems Perspective,” Emergence: Complexity & Organization 8, no. 1 (2006): 2–9; John Holland, Hidden Order: How Adaptation Builds Complexity (New York: Basic Books, 1995).

[16] Fromm, “Types and Forms of Emergence.”

[17] Bruce Reed, “From Treasury Vault to the Manhattan Project,” American Scientist, 2011, https://www.americanscientist.org/article/from-treasury-vault-to-the-manhattan-project.

[18] Fromm, “Types and Forms of Emergence.”

[19] Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_jump#/media/File:1912_Platt_Adams5.JPG

[20] Antoine Bousquet and Simon Curtis, “Beyond Models and Metaphors: Complexity Theory, Systems Thinking and International Relations,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 24, no. 1 (2011): 56.

[21] For more on reflective practice and epistemological studies, see: Schön, Displacement of Concepts; Schön, “Knowing-in-Action: The New Scholarship Requires a New Epistemology”; Krippendorff, “Principles of Design and a Trajectory of Artificiality.”

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