Deep Simplicity - John Grebbin
Deep Simplicity100This book provides another overview of the development of Chaos Theory and the background to fractals. (See also Introducing Chaos and Introducing Fractal Geometry)

It’s slightly extended description compared to these titles allows the role of some additional contributors to the field to be mentioned, but largely it covers the same ground.

The scene set, the book then focuses on its chosen area of interest, the role of chaos in the development of life and its evolution. In particular it focuses on what it describes as activity at ‘the edge of chaos’, the point where things begin to get interesting. Where outcomes are deterministic, but not predictable. It is in this apparent paradox that the fascination of chaos lies.

Though the answer to the question where did life come from still sits a little out of reach of this book and our understanding, the picture created provides an overwhelming case for the presence and importance of chaos not simply in the construction of our world through the shaping of trees or river estuaries for example, but also in the operation of our world. Here we are not simply interested in the ways that trees grow or river estuaries form, but throughout the whole range of processes of how things work from the orbiting of the planets, to the frequencies of electrical interference on telephone lines.

Indeed Beniot Mandelbrot, one of chaos theory’s pioneers, developed many of his ideas attempting to solve precisely this problem whilst employed at IBM, He concluded that interference was inevitable the solution was to detect corrupted data and resend.

Somewhat startlingly this same pattern of inevitability of unpredictable events can be seen throughout the operation of many of nature’s processes. For example the frequency and severity of earthquakes follows the same fractal pattern, as does the pattern of craters on the moon, and thereby on the Earth. This is leading geologists and seismologists to profoundly rethink their understanding.

When we begin to appreciate the universality of these ideas, we realise that they are no less profound for the rest of us. The neatly ordered way in which we perceive cause and effect and attempt to apply this to complex systems has to be rethought.

The book explores how the effects of chaos permeate all aspects of the life of the universe, even to explaining, with deference to Rudyard Kipling, how the leopard gets its spots. The consequences of chaos create a new way of seeing and demand a new way of understanding. For me they begin to solve the riddle, felt intuitively, that at the heart of the explanation of all of the complexity we experience, is simplicity, or as the book is titled, deep simplicity.

As Einstein said “When the solution is simple, God is answering.”

How does this relate to organisational change? Our desire to see business as in some way special, requiring its own rules, its own language and behaviours is perhaps our defence against what we see as the overwhelming complexity of the business world. If however we really want to understand, we must first be prepared to change our understanding, and begin by changing what we believe understanding to be. This book provides a first step in this process.

Steve Unwin
August 2006