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complex adaptation

October 27, 2012


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With the Cycle of Change model we can appreciate why:

Complex adaptive systems are self-organising, learn and adapt, and develop emergent strategies to perform at the ‘edge of chaos’ (McMillan & Carlisle, 2007, p. 576).

Successful leaders according to this model operate between two states of instability:  Chaos vs. Mechanistic stability. Rather than attempting to exert control, a more effective approach is to embrace flexibility.

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Chaos is:

  • irregular
  • sensitive to small changes which amplify over time
  • unpredictable, but with regular patterns
  • creating new, adaptive strategic directions
  • “an inseparable intertwining of order and disorder” (Stacey, 1993, p.14).

Image source: Figure 3 Transition Strategy Model (McMillan & Carlisle, 2007, p. 589).

Where does your school sit?

Our community is undergoing transition. This can feel turbulent, and emotional reactions are likely as a result of doubt, confusion and fear. Uncertainty prevails. I prefer to adopt a half-full-glass view of change.

Some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.

– Eckhart Tolle

This is more hopeful.

I am reminded of the failure of  top-down imperatives in education which tend to stifle creativity and ossify learning cultures; as leaders, then, living the moment-to-moment flow of daily dynamics is a survival strategy of adaptive innovation. Enervation seems a likely result of this balancing act.

Resilience = gold medal standard.


McMillan, E. & Carlisle, Y. (2007). Strategy as order emerging from chaos. Long Range Planning, 40(6), 574-593. Retrieved October 27, 2012 from Science Direct: Abstract

Stacey, R. Strategy as order emerging from chaos. Long Range Planning, 26(1), 10 – 17. Retrieved October 27, 2012 from Science Direct:

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