Simple Rules

Simple Rules are the agreed-upon guides that inform behavior and interactions among members of a Complex Adaptive System. Whether by conscious agreement or by unspoken assent, members of a CAS appear to engage with each other according to a short list of simple rules. Those Simple Rules shape the conditions that characterize the dominant patterns of the system.


Simple Rules can be overt agreements about behavior in a system or they can be covert understandings. They can guide the behavior of an individual or a team or a family or a community. Together the Simple Rules act in interdependent ways to influence the conditions that shape the speed, path, and direction of emergent patterns in the system.

So What?

Because they shape the dominant patterns among the agents, Simple Rules shape the culture of a complex system. They can emerge from history of interactions and decisions, or Simple Rules can emerge in a short session of intentional planning and decision making.

Now What?

Teams can use Simple Rules in a number of ways.

  • They can come together and agree on the patterns they want and establish Simple Rules they believe will shape those patterns.
  • They can review their work together retrospectively to identify the unspoken Simple Rules that may be in effect. Then the team can choose to continue with the Rules that shape patterns they want, and find new Rules to shape patterns they want to improve.

Related Resources

Peace emerges over time when individuals and groups follow a short list of Simple Rules.
In complex adaptive systems, groups have the capacity to move together, even when they are free to make their own choices.
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