Sunday, February 1, 2015

How to Apply Emergent Properties to Building a Digital Master

The two most basic systemic structures are the balancing cycle and the growth cycle.

In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is conceived as a process whereby larger entities, patterns, and regularities arise through interactions among smaller or simpler entities that themselves do not exhibit such properties. In philosophy, almost all accounts of emergence include a form of irreducibility (either epistemic or ontological) to the lower levels. Also, emergence is central in theories of integrative levels and of complex systems. (Wikipedia). The accepted definition of an Emergent Property is that applies to a whole system but not any part. But how can this be applied to a social/digital organization whose boundary and parts are not clearly defined in the first place? And how to build a "Digital Maser" with well-managed & emergent digital capabilities?

It is sometimes useful to define the system then look for or at its emergent properties. However, it’s also useful and normal in Systems Thinking (ST) to work the other way round, to start with a set of emergent properties and then model the system that does or could produce them. Since more often, you cannot clearly point to either the whole or its parts. And you can rarely state that the whole is required for the property to be observed. Most system outcomes can be achieved with only some or a few parts.

It is useful and normal to start with a set of outcomes and then model the system that does or could produce them. Also that it is useful to define the system then look for or at its outcomes. The term "outcomes" seems better than "emergent properties" since the latter are restricted to having the very peculiar characteristic that they are properties only of the whole system - not any partial system. Whereas outcomes are not restricted by that peculiar characteristic.

The two most basic systemic structures are the balancing cycle and the growth cycle; and their emergent characteristics just happen to be balance and growth, which would sort of implying that any system must have emergent characteristics. This is also normal in business, but it generally doesn't work well because managers are trained to try to design for emergence using reductionist approaches and not surprisingly the reductionist toolkit doesn't fit the task.

The emergent property means different things in different circumstances:

1) You might use "Emergent Property" to mean a property that *surprisingly* emerges in system operation. But the definition of emergent property does not say it is major or minor, desirable or not, expected or not.
2) You might use "Emergent Property" to mean a property that emerges after a system change (a company merger). But the definition of emergent property applies to a given system, not a system migration effort.
3) You might use "Emergent Property" for composite system variable value that is more or less than the sum of partial system variable values, but it’s about a new systemic property, not about the scale of a property held also by parts.
4) You might use "Emergent Property" to mean any outcome of a system in operation. But most outcomes of a social/digital organization result from activity by only some of its parts. Where the whole organization is not required for a specific property to be observed, then "outcome" would be the more fitting term.

Synergy - which is just the business term for a desirable emergent property. However, because the business uses a substitute term, many people have lost the meaning of synergy and fail to realize that it is supposed to mean an emergent property and so they blithely assume that there is no difference between a cost saving and gain in synergy. Synergy creation implies the emergent business capability being built via certain business activities or process/talent tuning.

The basis for measuring the new capability is not always in the same terms as the old capabilities. The creation of a more fundamental value is actually a single proxy indicator of a set of underlying values including current asset value, future earnings potential etc. It is an indicator of the concept requires there will be a whole system composed of interacting parts. It cannot be applied to a system that is not observable as a whole. Or to a system whose parts are not observable.

Digital businesses become more dynamic and hyperconnected, organizations have to enable the desirable emergent property, either being called synergy or ongoing capability because they are the business competency and key differentiator to build high-performing digital businesses.

Digitalization is like a flywheel, and Digital Masters are the one riding above it. Surf more Information about Digital Master:


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