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On rethinking constraints

By Dave Snowden  ·  March 1, 2013  ·  Reflections

The power went out this morning in Lockeridge and the surrounding areas.  The some what cryptic  Southern Electric answering service hinted at an explosion in a power line and made no early promise if a resolution.   Now we are a small village so my wife went across the road to friends who are both old, and in one case have MS.  Her mission was to take some hot water.  We have an AGA so making tea remains possible without electricity and I was on standby with others to provide a manual alternative to the electric hoist.  Communication within the village was simple and other errands of a similar nature were taking place without fuss and without much thought, but with great thought if you see what I mean.

Small communities have this capacity in a way that large ones do not.  It's also going to be of increasing importance that we increase our ability to use this type of interdependency in the world as resources shrink and populations increase.  Chronic disease management will bankrupt health services if we can't use communities more.  The issue then is the level of constraint applied.  I remember talking with some people in Australia who were not allowed to re-build their community after a bush fire due to health and safety regulations.   The help which went on in the village this morning was not so regulated.  

Constraint management is one of the key aspects of complex systems management and its one which needs attention.  Aside from the voluntary sector I would argue that human enterprise (I do not mean banks) is over constrained.  In exploring space we worry too much about death, we hold back and achieve less in a way that our ancestors who roved the globe in frail sailing vessels would not understand.  Risk assessments prevent emergency services from acting and so on.   To become too risk adverse is as bad as taking a totally laissez faire approach and we seem to only deal in absolutes these days, attempting robustness at the cost of resilience.

Oh, and its St David's Day so you get daffodils, and a reminder that the Welsh Church in his day followed the Eastern Rite, something more lost to the Saxons.