At the heart of complexity science is a set of essential characteristics of complex adaptive systems that we can directly apply to organizations and our work as facilitators. It is always risky to take scientific principles developed in one context and apply them to another. Some researchers have objected to treating organizations as complex adaptive systems and point to the many ways in which human organizations differ from the models developed by complexity theorists. However, we believe that treating organizations as if they are complex adaptive systems can yield many valuable insights.
Complex adaptive systems have the following characteristics: Order is emergent and self-organizing; A small set of simple rules generates purposeful, complex, and dynamic behavior; The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, with its own distinct identity; At the edge of chaos is where systems are most adaptable and creative; and, Small changes can generate big effects. These five characteristics of complex adaptive systems provide a general framework for facilitation. We think facilitators can go even further and define a set of design principles to inform specific design choices.