Alicia Juarrero – Keynote: Think Safe-Fail to thrive under conditions of uncertainty

Thinkers ranging from economists to social philosophers, historians to hardware and software engineers, have historically advocated stability and equilibrium. With these as your guiding principles, managers and designers aimed to construct systems that were fail-safe by including redundancies and other techniques meant to prevent errors and minimize fluctuations. But the study of living systems (and especially of ecosystems) has taught us that nature and evolution do not favor stability and equilibrium: instead, natural processes select for resilience and adaptability—for characteristics that foster evolvability. Living things learn from the past and anticipate the future – and then modify themselves to handle ambiguity, uncertainty, and unwelcome perturbations. Handle and manage, not avoid and eliminate ambiguity and uncertainty.

Modeling an organization as a natural system counsels a safe-fail approach: assume things will unavoidably go wrong and design so that you can quickly and efficiently adapt to turbulence and thrive.

This presentation will explore the difference between the classical “fail-safe” approach and the new “safe-fail” approach suggested by complex dynamical systems.


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