We agree with scientists who say that simple rules in natural systems lead to a healthy balance of consistency and creativity. They set conditions for optimal freedom for the individual and optimal coherence for the system as a whole. That is why our Simple Rules are so important to us as individuals who contribute to a field, an Institute, and a network of learning and practice. These Simple Rules inform how we design research and practice projects, work with clients and each other, evaluate our work, and connect with our communities. They create for us coherent patterns of thought and action that help us move toward our goals with coherence and innovation. This short list of Simple Rules is specifically designed to help us shape the patterns that will bring our vision into reality.

Stand in Inquiry.

We believe that inquiry is the key to success in turbulent and uncertain times. That is why it is at the core of the theory and practice of human systems dynamics. We put this belief into practice through simple practices to guide our interactions with the world and with each other.

  • Turn judgment into curiosity
  • Turn conflict into shared exploration
  • Turn defensiveness into self-reflection
  • Turn assumptions into questions

Find the energy in difference.

Energy in complex systems is stored in differences. In physical systems, batteries, springs, and chemical barriers hold systemic energy. In human systems, difference is also key to potential change. Race, power, expertise, culture, wealth, perspectives, and innumerable other differences establish tension. Those tensions set conditions for human systems to adapt. When we are able to see, understand, and influence the differences in a human system, we increase our adaptive capacity to influence change and shape the future. In all our work, as we follow this rule, we help people:

  • Surface and resolve conflict
  • Respond to personal and systemic racism
  • Collaborate across boundaries
  • Lead innovative teams

Search for the true and the useful.

In these days of fake news and information overload, it is not always easy to find what is true. That makes the search even more important. When we seek the true and the useful, we make sure that our work reflects the best principles of complexity science and the patterns of HSD. Our work is action-oriented and relevant in a wide range of complex human systems. In each conversation or consultation, we find what is “fit for function,” to ensure that people find reliable and helpful answers to the challenges they face. In our Adaptive Action Labs, coaching and learning engagements, this Simple Rule informs design. We work together to ensure people will apply and sustain their abilities to:

  • Examine data and evidence to determine its truth and relevance
  • Question the impact of their own and others’ assumptions
  • Explore broad applications of HSD ideas to create innovative responses to challenges

Zoom in and zoom out.

Complex systems depend on levels and layers of entangled relationships. Individuals experience personal complexity. Organizations, communities, and nations are driven by systemic complexity of policies, processes, and procedures. We know that what happens locally influences larger issues, and that larger issues shape local patterns. When we zoom in, we see the granularity of patterns that are local and personal. When we zoom out, we encounter patterns of systemic significance. The simple, elegant, powerful tools of HSD prepare people to engage with all levels of systemic change, and help them to:

  • See, understand, and influence patterns locally to influence change elsewhere
  • Seek best fit between and among the parts of their systems
  • Use Simple Rules to ensure system-wide coherence

Connect with stories and impacts.

We learn best in community. In our relationships of personal, organizational, and systemic development, we connect in inquiry and action. Our stories help us see new patterns in new ways. Our impacts help us assess and improve continually. When we share our HSD stories and impacts, we are explicit in our use of Pattern Logic to see, understand, and influence the future of our world. We use what we know to contribute to adaptive capacity in the systems where we live, work, and play. In our Adaptive Action Labs, this Simple Rule informs design, so that when they leave, learners will:

  • Use Pattern Logic and Adaptive Action to strengthen their communities and organizations
  • Share with others what they know about Pattern Logic and Adaptive Action

Celebrate life!

These are challenging times in all parts of the world. Climate change, economic and political instability, expanding authoritarianism, natural disasters, and global pandemics create conditions for individual and collective grief and pain. In the midst of these painful patterns, individuals have the power to influence the world around them. They can support each other to transform turbulence and uncertainty into possibility for themselves and others. Our goal is to continually improve our own practice and to help others:

  • Set conditions for groups and individuals to participate in their communities or organizations in meaningful ways
  • Set goals and establish simple rules that ensure engagement and coherent action toward powerful outcomes

Related Resources

This book offers a clear and thoughtful process for reflection, self-exploration and planning, to bring you toward a new level of personal insight and growth. It's a radical approach that enables you to use HSD Models & Methods to consider your life right now and your future potential.
The Superintendent of Coast Union School District in California, USA, shares her HSD story.
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.
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