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“ If you do not rest upon the good foundation of nature, you will labor with little honor and less profit. Those who take for their standard anyone but nature - the mistress of all masters - weary themselves in vain”
Leonardo da Vinci
The Mission of Plexus Institute: “Fostering the health of individuals, families, communities, organizations and our natural environment by helping people use concepts emerging from the new science of complexity.”
worlds, one created by nature, the other built by humans. In the first, nature
displays its infinite ability to create organization at all levels, from crystals to plants to living organisms, and its amazing capacity to innovate and adapt, demonstrated through the 3.5 billion years of its history. In the human world, many organizations and systems we have created – such as in healthcare, education, business and government – feel rigid, inefficient, and incapable of delivering what we
want. Inside those organizations, whether private or public, many people at all levels remain dissatisfied with their working environment, and contribute well below their potential. The standard solutions treat only the symptoms of the problem: change the boss, spend more money, introduce a new program, reorganize.
Rise of the Clockwork Organization
Our model for organizations emanated from the industrial era, in which human organizations were viewed as if they were machines. Undoubtedly, machines brought wondrous advances to humanity. The power of engines, the precision of clocks, and the very laws of mechanics created staggering efficiencies in the inanimate world, greatly benefiting the cause of man. The principles of the machine operated so brilliantly, however, that people mistakenly began applying them to the living world as well. Institutions, from churches to armies to businesses, were structured as clockworks, built on rigid hierarchies and interchangeable parts. Utilized as interchangeable parts, humans quit working with their hearts and minds. Governed by power structures and measured primarily by material metrics, personal relationships became more brittle, ranking family and community among the casualties of the modern age. Obsessed with measurement (especially of money), the unmeasurable, such as human spirit, shrank from our attention and we lost sight of how systems, especially living systems, operate as a connected whole. While the march of modernity benefited humankind in many areas – cleaner water, safer housing, widely available education – it has also reduced our well-being and performance in dramatic ways. For instance, • At the individual level, lifestyle and environmental factors – not genetic predisposition – account for the majority of diseases in the modern era, according to an account in The New England Journal of Medicine. Despite advances in medicine, diseases of civilization grow more common as modern lifestyles cleave mankind from the natural patterns in which the human species evolved. Diseases such as heart disease, strokes, hypertension, diabetes, asthma, cancer and obesity are a consequence of this discordance and currently cause 75% of deaths in the western world. At the family level, power structures, gender roles, and disharmony take an unacceptable toll, as reflected in high and in many cases increasing rates of divorce, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and child abuse (see The Social Health of the Nation by Marc L. Miringoff, et al).
“The principles of the machine operated so brilliantly that people mistakenly began applying them to the living world as well. Institutions, from churches to armies to businesses, were structured as clockworks, built on rigid hierarchies and interchangeable parts.”
At the organizational level, people and the systems they create routinely operate below their full potential (see The Human Equation by Jeffrey Pfeffer). Creativity of the individual is often stifled by bureaucratic constraints. Collaboration is blocked by competition. Too many schools, businesses, nonprofit groups, and government agencies remain rigid and inflexible, even as they are surrounded by rapid change. Many of those who find material fulfillment in their work lives nonetheless remain personally unfulfilled.
The Importance of Relationships
We invite you to spend a moment reflecting on your own life, family, and work. At a deep level, we all sense the inadequacy, indeed the harm, caused by a model of human interaction that relies mainly on power and control. Think of a teenager you know in trouble and you realize that controlling behavior is a poor substitute for values and dialogue. Think about the great teams to which you have been privileged to belong and remember the trusting bonds that emerged among the participants. Or recall how a community pulled together after a natural disaster, all without central leadership or control. These experiences teach us that what happens between people and between systems – in other words, relationships – play a huge role, often the principal role. This observation stands in marked contrast to the mechanical mental model, which emphasizes the role not of relationships but of individuals, as if they were objects.
“Clearly, we need a new way of looking at work and organizations of all types. Such a world-view has in fact emerged; it is known as complexity science.”
A New Way of Thinking And Acting
Whatever their value in the past, mechanistic principles alone are inadequate for the complexity and change we face today. Clearly, we need a new way of looking at work and organizations of all types. Such a world-view has in fact emerged; it is known as complexity science. At its core, this intellectual revolution is transforming our understanding of life, its structures, dynamics and its care, while providing new principles for making sense of what is most fundamental in our lives: our relationships with other people and our environment. Such understandings give us powerful new ways of thinking about and acting on issues which span human concern, from such seemingly disparate domains as ecological preservation, childhood education and executive leadership. As such, it is relevant to everyone. Already, some business, community and government leaders are embracing the ideas emerging from complexity science, but they remain a minority. To build on this opportunity Plexus Institute was founded with this mission:
“Fostering the health of individuals, families, communities, organizations and our natural environment by helping people use concepts emerging from the new science of complexity.”
(In this mission statement “health” is meant to include physical as well as mental and spiritual dimensions. A “healthy” individual has a healthy body, healthy relationships, a healthy home and workplace. It is someone who is poised for learning, growth and adaptability. Similarly a “healthy” organization is more than a materially successful one. It is an environment in which relationships are rewarding and opportunities to learn, grow and contribute are available to all. It is poised to adapt. A “healthy” community is one in which all people are nurtured and valued, where information flows freely, where there is healthy interaction between all groups and where institutions support the growth and development of all.) We at Plexus Institute are a community of diverse people – scientists, business executives, nurses, artists, teachers, journalists, researchers, physicians, college students, and community leaders – united in our determination to create something better. We are people who, by learning from each other, are making strides against some of the major problems afflicting society and human organizations. The following pages tell the story of Plexus Institute. It is told in these chapters: Ideas that Matter: Introduction to Complexity .................................Page 7 The Results of the Early Years ..........................................................Page 11 The Opportunity ...............................................................................Page 13 The Activities of the Institute ............................................................Page 15 Membership Offerings and Benefits ..................................................Page 19 The Structure and Finances of the Institute ......................................Page 21 The Board of Trustees and Advisory Board ......................................Page 22 An Invitation .....................................................................................Page 24
“Plexus Institute is a community of diverse people united in their determination to create something better.”
Ideas that Matter: Introduction to Complexity
“Scientific knowledge, originally seen to make possible the prediction and manipulation of nature, appears now to be pointing us toward a new relationship with the natural world based on sensitive observation and participation, rather than control.” Brian Goodwin
he roots of the Plexus Institute begin in the world of healthcare. Indeed the healthcare professionals involved in the creation of Plexus in the Fall of 2000 had first joined together years earlier with the aspiration of improving patient care. The story begins in 1995. Curt Lindberg was then a regional officer with VHA Inc., an alliance of 2,200 nonprofit and community hospitals and physician practices. Seeking to make sense of the conflict and confusion afflicting health care – and ultimately, to improve the health of people – Lindberg and his colleagues began studying the emerging discipline of complexity science. This scientific discipline is being developed by some of the world’s leading researchers – such Nobel laureates, MacArthur “geniuses,” Pulitzer prize winners, and renowned scientists as Murray Gell-Mann in physics, Ilya Prigogine in chemistry, Edward O. Wilson (a Plexus advisor) in biology, Ary Goldberger (a Plexus advisor) in mathematics and medicine, Stuart Kauffman (a Plexus advisor) in molecular biology, John Holland (a Plexus advisor) in computer science, the late Herbert Simon in psychology, and Ralph D. Stacey (a Plexus advisor) in organizational dynamics.
“What is complexity science? Very simply, it is science’s most recent attempt to explain how order and novelty emerge in the world.”
A New Mental Model: Complex Systems that Live and Adapt
What is complexity science? Very simply, it is science’s most recent attempt to explain how order and novelty emerge in the world. (As such it is the intellectual successor to systems theory and chaos theory.) The traditional view of the natural world was made up of machine-like entities that you could understand by taking them apart and examining the components. A lot has been learned about nature by this approach. But the vast majority of nature is not amenable to being understood in such a manner, because most of nature is made up of what complexity scientists call non-linear, complex adaptive systems. Such systems are created by a number of diverse and independent agents that are constantly changing and interacting with each other. In complex adaptive systems, a study of the parts surely produces an incomplete understanding of the whole. Examples of these systems include ant colonies, ecosystems, and human organizations. It’s worth making a distinction here between complex and complicated. An internal combustion engine is complicated, with many different components. But it is not complex in that knowing what the parts are and how they function permits you to know what the system as a whole does. The defining feature of complex adaptive systems is emergence: the order that emerges through the interactions of components in complex systems is
“greater than the sum of the parts,” to use a familiar phrase. Complex systems therefore have a large degree of unpredictability about them. But more than that, the emergent collective order in turn influences the behavior, or interactions, of the parts. Feedback loops exist at every level. Such systems are constantly adapting and evolving. Because there is little mathematics appropriate to non-linear systems, complexity scientists study such systems using computer simulations and models of various kinds, and observe patterns in nature. One of the earliest problems addressed by complexity science was the phenomenon of flocking birds. The precision and complexity of flocking invites the assumption that a central controlling mechanism exists. But computer simulation, on a program called Boids, suggests that flocking arises from three simple rules guiding the behavior of the individual boids. In ant colonies, similarly, individuals follow a small repertoire of behaviors, and from these simple rules emerges an elaborate physical architecture and precise temperature control.
The Myth of Control
These examples illustrate two important properties of complex systems. First, that complexity arises from a deep simplicity. Second, that the order of the whole system flows from distributed control, that is from interactions among individuals, not from central control. In organizations, one way to think about this phenomenon, called self-organization, is to remember what happens in times of crisis. People take on tasks where they see the need, often breaking the normal rules of operation, often doing things they don’t normally do. People achieve amazing feats, which they often rank among the most rewarding experiences of their work lives. Leaders often find it difficult to give up a measure of control, because it is part of their identity as leader. But those that do find that their people tap into their latent talent, and do far more than they, or anyone, ever imagined. This is the power of a complexity perspective in organizations. This perspective does not say that leaders simply have to sit back, give up control, and wait for unpredictable miracles. Instead, it argues that leaders must help create conditions that unleash the talent distributed among their people. It is a model of leader as cultivator rather than controller. Complexity scientists have found that complex adaptive systems fluctuate between three states: stasis at one extreme; chaos at the other; and an inbetween state called the edge of chaos. It’s in this state that the system is most adaptable and creative, and in organizations it’s from where new ideas and unexpected directions of activity flow. Complexity scientists also find that in systems poised at the edge of chaos, small changes can produce big effects. This is in contrast with Newtonian machines, where action and reaction are equal and opposite: small changes bring small effects; big changes bring big effects.
“The order of a system flows from distributed control – that is, from interactions among individuals – not from central control. This phenomenon is called selforganization.”
Small changes can generate big effects in complex systems (remember Rosa Parks?) because the web of connections and interactions among the parts causes changes to cascade and multiply throughout the system. Again, one way to apply this to organizations is to remember what sometimes happens when a team is grappling with a complex problem. Ideas are tossed about, some rejected, others thought to be valuable, but no real progress is being made. Then the next new idea triggers a flurry of connections, and a solution emerges quickly, a further property of complex adaptive systems.
One final property of complex adaptive systems that is relevant to organizations is as follows: when the interactions among the agents are enhanced, the adaptability and creativity of the system is also enhanced. In human organizations, this translates to agents being people, and interactions being relationships generated by conversations. Enhancing people’s ability to interact and to develop enhances the adaptability of the organization. Complexity scientists have also observed that a diversity of agents in the system serves to enhance this adaptability and creativity even further. In organizations, this means inviting a diversity of experience and perspectives. Leaders guided by a complexity perspective therefore place great value on developing and strengthening relationships with and among their people. Perhaps counter-intuitively, complexity science leads to a very human-centered practice in organizations, validating such value-based leadership ideals as openness, diversity and integrity. Consider, by contrast, the metaphor that has guided organization life since the time of Newton: the machine. A machine is a production system made of different parts connected with each other, and parts can only perform the one thing they were built for. A machine is powered from outside, its rigid structure determines a predictable output. It has no capacity to innovate, to adapt or to fix itself. Repairs are performed by outsiders, fixing or changing parts. A machine metaphor has clear limitations for explaining modern organizations. Complexity science gives us a new lens to look beyond structure and
“Perhaps counterintuitively, complexity science leads to a very human-centered practice in organizations.”
Some Characteristics of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS)
• Order flows from interactions, not from central control. • Naturally adaptive and creative. • Small changes may produce big effects. • The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. • When interactions among agents are enhanced, adaptability and creativity are also enhanced.
control for making sense of what is happening in the increasingly complex organizations of today. It provides a potentially unifying framework to help us understand some of our intuitions and experiences in organizations. • The power to generate change resides not only at the top but is distributed among all members of an organization, and so is the power to prevent change. • It is not the individual that is the most critical but the relationships between individuals. • All people are agents affecting and being affected by each other; no one can stand outside the system and that includes leaders. Their behavior affects the system but it is only one of the factors. • All people can only act locally, and that includes leaders. • In complex systems, detailed planning from the top is best replaced by minimum specifications and appropriate autonomy for individuals to self-organize. • What an organization can accomplish cannot be understood without first understanding its history. • Among the factors that affect organizational creativity are information flow, diversity, connectivity, power differentials and anxiety. Most organizations have too little information flow and diversity and too much difference in power.
The Results of the Early Years
“The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” Albert Einstein
s the study of complexity gained new popularity at major universities and research centers, Curt Lindberg’s early scouting party began to see how it could inspire new ways of helping healthcare organizations become more responsive to the needs of people, families, communities and their own employees. They came to believe deeply in the assertion by writer Kevin Kelly that “Nature, the master manager of complexity, offers priceless guidance…” Nature organizes itself through networks – broad, diverse, and multiscaled. Emulating this principle, Lindberg and his collaborators within VHA began reaching beyond their immediate community, inviting researchers, thinkers, and leaders from many professional communities into their midst. They were joined by a renowned Harvard physiologist, an influential Canadian sociologist, a retired pharmaceutical executive, a Fortune 100 CEO, the founder of the business-ethics field of study, the founding chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee Sports Medicine Council, and a telecommunications executive from Santiago, Chile – to mention only a few. A persistent effort took hold to come together and remain together. Members of the group, now numbering three dozen, regularly assembled from across North America and Europe, taking time from their demanding research, publishing, leadership, or clinical schedules to share the latest knowledge about complex systems. Stories from the personal and professional lives of the participants inspired the group to carry on, while developing a bond of shared commitment. Though loosely confederated, the group operated according to the very principles that had brought them together. In order to create robustness the group self-organized into continually changing small teams to share experiences and insights. In time, the group’s learning began to spread to other networks of which its members were a part. As a consequence, many people and organizations began applying new ideas inspired from complex systems. In order to share these developments, in 1998 Brenda Zimmerman, Paul Plsek and Curt Lindberg collaborated on a resource book called Edgeware: Insights From Complexity Science for Health Care Leaders. It includes a primer on complexity, action-oriented rules of thumb, stories and reflections from practical experiences, and aides for introducing complexity thinking in organizations. Then, in 1999, Tom Petzinger, a Wall Street Journal editor and writer for 22 years, was inspired by his regular attendance at the group’s meetings and authored the best-selling book The New Pioneers. The book is a collection of stories about how a new generation of entrepreneurs is abandoning command-
“Nature organizes itself through networks – broad, diverse, and multiscaled.”
and-control models and creating instead adaptive organizations. In 2000, another regular participant, Roger Lewin, whose book Complexity has been judged one of the most important science books of the last century, joined with collaborator Birute Regine, an educational psychologist, to pen The Soul at Work, an account of how complexity principles work in businesses of all kinds – including the enterprises of a number of fellow Plexus Institute founders.
A Case Study: Complexity at Hunterdon Medical Center
Among the many success stories one remains a favorite among Plexus members because of how simply it demonstrates the value of self-organization. It is a story from Linda Rusch, vice president of patient care at Hunterdon Medical Center in New Jersey. Linda became frustrated trying to plan new community health outreach programs. She had done what managers typically do: form a committee, plan strategies, research facts and figures, engage consultants. After months of meetings and valiant attempts to figure out the best initiatives to launch, all she had was a pile of meeting minutes and frustrated committee members. Then she decided to change tactics and experiment with complexity theory. Linda hosted a series of meetings with all the nursing staff in which she outlined a good enough vision about why community outreach initiatives were needed. She then gave all the nurses in the hospital three simple rules to guide them: 1. Nurses can take up to one-half day per week each to undertake a community health initiative they cared deeply about ; 2. Don’t do anything illegal; 3. Take needed funds from the limited outreach budget on their own approval, and we will post it publicly so everyone knows what is happening. The result? Within a few weeks 27 projects were initiated, some more successful than others. But all generated more responsive and productive connections between the hospital, nurses, and Hunterdon County residents and agencies. Such attention to relationships and health has earned the Medical Center some of the highest patient satisfaction ratings in the country, ranking Hunterdon tops among New Jersey hospitals and within the top 1% in the United States.
“A complexity approach has earned Hunterdon Medical Center some of the highest patient satisfaction ratings in the country.”
Validation from the Institute of Medicine
Complexity science is also being recognized at the national level in the United States. In its groundbreaking report of March 2001, Crossing the Quality
Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century, the Institute of Medicine – an organization founded by the National Academies of Science and chartered by Congress to advise the federal government on policy matters pertaining to the health of the public – used as a framework “recent work in understanding complex adaptive systems”. Accordingly, the authors of the report consciously chose not to create a detailed national “blueprint” but rather stated their belief that: “a new health system should be based on systems that can organize themselves to achieve a shared purpose by adhering to a few well-thought-out general rules, adapting to local circumstances, and then examining their own performance. In reshaping health care, local adaptation, innovation, and initiative will be essential ingredients for success.”
“Complexity is where we are going in the 21st century. It is the future of science.” Edward O. Wilson
y 2000, the unofficial learning network had grown to include more than 150 active, regular participants, plus more than 500 members on a listserv. As the benefits of their learning spread and individuals from a number of countries joined in, members of the group decided to create a formal organization, capable of expanding their activities beyond the reach of the informal network. They resolved to recruit new members, to partner with new institutions, to seek outside funding – all while continuing to embody the values of openness, diversity, and connection that had first brought them together. As in nature, when a diverse group of organisms comes together to form an ecology, it was time for the learning network to adopt a more rigorous level of organization. In the fall of 2000, nine of them assembled in Pittsburgh, Pa., to act as the founding trustees of a new organization, for which they chose the name Plexus Institute.1 At this meeting, Robert Shapiro, then the chairman of Pharmacia Corporation, advanced three propositions to help guide the work of the group. 1. At all levels, crises afflict the world around us. Many of these crises are closely connected to our controlling and mechanistic language and concepts, which are reaching the limits of their effectiveness. 2. People sense the truth of this limitation. Yet paradoxically, many of the people discomforted by the mechanistic thinking so prevalent in our organizations are people who occupy positions of power and control. 3. A new set of ideas and tools are becoming available to help ameliorate this tension, namely, the principles of complexity and a new understanding of the laws of nature.
“As in nature, when a diverse group of organisms comes together to form an ecology, it was time for the learning network to adopt a more rigorous level of organization.”
Henri Lipmanowicz, former Division President of Merck, expressed his thoughts this way.
“It’s sad to see so many people in both the private and public
sector, at all levels in organizations, so unhappy with their working environment. They’re often frustrated by distrustful,
1. Why was the organization named “Plexus?” This is the American Heritage Dictionary definition: “a structure in the form of a network…a combination of interlaced parts.” Examples include the branching bundles of nerves or blood vessels, such as the solar plexus. The word shares the Greek root plek (to braid) with the word “complexity.” 14
unrewarding relationships with bosses, colleagues or subordinates. Traditional controlling and competitive concepts have created a major conflict between success/performance and ‘happiness.’ This conflict is absolutely not necessary.” Here lies the compelling, challenging opportunity facing Plexus Institute: to advance and diffuse a set of ideas to help show people, families, organizations, and communities alternatives, created by nature, to the controlling, mechanistic principles that govern much of modern life. Why is the need for alternative thinking so urgent? Because of the power of mental models. Mental models hold awesome power over the structure of our institutions, the nature of our relationships, and the language we use to describe the world around us and communicate with each other. As the historian Thomas Kuhn once observed, “You don’t see something until you have the right metaphor to let you perceive it.” And for the last two centuries, that model has been based on the machine. In major universities around the world, in government laboratories, and in interdisciplinary think-tanks such as the Santa Fe Institute, scientists have made stunning progress in characterizing the properties of complex, dynamical systems. What’s missing is the practical application of these findings to advance the health and performance of individuals, families, organizations, and communities. A major gap persists between the science of complex systems and the use of that science, which explains, in a nutshell, the mission chosen by Plexus Institute. The recent work of members of the Plexus community provides evidence and hope that meaningful progress towards this mission is achievable.
“A major gap persists between the science of complex systems and the use of that science, which explains the mission chosen by Plexus Institute.”
The Activities of the Institute
“…the view of evolution as chronic bloody competition among individuals and species, a popular distortion of Darwin’s notion of ‘survival of the fittest,’ dissolves before a new view of continual cooperation, strong interaction, and mutual dependence among life forms. Life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking.” Lynn Margulis and Dorian Sagan
he founding members of Plexus Institute are, in the pursuit of their mission, emphasizing action over planning as well as a welcoming, inclusive spirit. They are eager to include new participants, confident that the experiences and knowledge they bring will enrich the diversity of perspective within the organization and, thus, help stimulate the development of the young science and lead to further explorations of its applicability in human organizations. The Institute is moving to cultivate and build upon the years of work its members have already undertaken. The current set of activities emerged from a self-generative process, the result of interactions between members and individual initiatives. This volunteer-driven process has served members well and is in keeping with complexity concepts. However, it cannot accommodate the demands of the growing membership. The purpose of creating Plexus Institute is to build the resources required for expanding this model and make the benefits available on a much wider scale.
Plexus conferences are a primary source of interaction among members. Plexus Institute will host periodic networking events and learning conferences to bring together scientists – in fields such as biology, organizational theory, and complexity – with leaders from organizations of all types – corporations, hospitals, government agencies, schools, universities and community-based organizations. This is the work that the Plexus founders have been conducting for
What Members Say About Plexus Conferences
Completely changed my views about leadership • A place where surprising and novel ideas emerge • Powerful influence over my evolution as an executive • Conversations with world class thinkers • Instantaneous community • Brain stretching • Significantly influenced the way I see and interpret the world • Create the conditions for more innovation and creativity • Fundamentally shifted a number of my assumptions about life and work • The most valuable help I as an executive get • Everyone seems to benefit and build new contacts • Inspiration to work for significant change • Able to step back and look at the big picture more easily • The power of learning through conversations and relationship building • Better able to make sense of what I could not before • Keeps me “young” in my thinking.
more than three years, and they aim to conduct more as membership expands. Plexus Conferences are designed with a very flexible, complexity-inspired format that facilitates interactions and self-organization. Participants shape these events by offering issues for discussion and sharing stories of their individual experiences. The atmosphere is welcoming, inclusive and informal; lots of small group discussions emerge at the initiative of participants. The benefits of Plexus Conferences are many. New ideas and insights picked up by participants become the basis of initiatives in their home organizations. These in turn become a new source of stories for future conferences and an attraction for new members. New relationships are created which lead to the formation of Plexus Learning Networks (see below), a powerful support system for experiments and interactive learning. Major topics of common interest emerge from Plexus Conferences that then become platforms for separate workshops (see below). These in turn spinoff ideas, relationships, experiments and stories that become material for conferences, new networks or other workshops. Research proposals as well (see below) emerge from conferences and workshops with the potential for demonstrating concepts for wide scale application.
“Plexus conferences are designed with a very flexible, complexity-inspired format that facilitates interactions and selforganization.”
The activities of the Plexus Institute stem not from central planning but from relationships among members and initiatives taken by members. A number of activities, existing and planned, have already emerged from this approach: • Plexus Learning Networks are created and facilitated by Plexus for small groups of individuals interested in learning together and discovering, through ongoing interaction, novel approaches to challenging issues. Network members meet periodically, are connected electronically and are given access to prominent complexity scientists and organizational theorists. Learning Networks can be established for individuals inside a single organization, or to connect people from separate organizations or communities. • Plexus Fractals are Plexus “replicas” at the local level. Created at the initiative of members, Fractals are now being formed in Toronto, Los Angeles, and the U.K. • Plexus Workshops aim to engage a diverse group of people in exploring particularly challenging issues. Currently a Workshop is being planned around recommendations contained in the Institute of Medicine’s recent report, Crossing the Quality Chasm, for improving the health care system
• Plexus Education and Consulting Offerings, ranging from simple presentations to on-site assistance, are provided by a “virtual” faculty to help leaders become acquainted with complexity concepts and put them into practice. • PlexusInstitute.org, the Institute website, presents a collection of resource materials relating to complexity and organizations. These web resources provide clear, non-technical stories, concepts and practical organizational applications of complexity science. The site is also being developed to provide opportunities for online interaction, conferences and project work. • Plexus Listservs connect electronically those involved in the work of Plexus. They enable members of Learning Networks, Plexus Fractals, and participants in Workshops to communicate online, complementing face-to-face interactions. • PlexusNews is a regular email service reporting developments in complexity and the life sciences with import for human systems, new books and articles, and stories about the work of members. • Research will also be on the Plexus agenda. Already, a number of potential projects are emerging for consideration: an evaluation of complexity-based leadership approaches on organizational performance; a study of the Institute of Medicine’s proposed simple rules for health care; and an evaluation of HeartWaves as a means of improving the health of Native Americans – an initiative suggested by Everett Rogers, a Plexus advisor and internationally recognized scholar on the diffusion of innovations. The Institute sees this mix of activities evolving over time. As membership and resources expand, the initial focus on health care and leadership will broaden to reach further into the worlds of business, education, government, communities, and the environment – evidence of the Institute’s aspiration to remain forever exploratory, forever open, and forever adaptive – the approach used by nature to assure the perpetuation of progress.
“The Institute aspires to remain forever exploratory, forever open, and forever adaptive – the approach used by nature to assure the perpetuation of progress.”
Membership Offerings and Benefits
lexus provides a variety of membership options for individuals and organizations, enabling everyone interested in the work of the Institute to become active and engaged. Given the Institute’s desire to be inclusive, a special approach to membership, which includes the provision of scholarships, has been crafted. For questions about membership or to join the Plexus community, contact Curt Lindberg at 609-208-2930 or Curt@PlexusInstitute.org. Two membership options exist for individuals. • Personal Membership – at no cost – provides access to online resources, PlexusNews, participation in Plexus Fractals, and invitations to all conferences, workshops, and network meetings. • Professional Membership – at $400 a year – provides all the benefits of Personal Membership plus discounts on conferences, workshops and network meeting registration fees. For organizations three membership levels exist – which range in cost from $9,000 to $50,000/year – created to appeal to organizations of various sizes and interests. All participating organizations, called Plexus Partners, select teams of leaders to take advantage of Plexus activities at no additional cost: • • • • • Plexus Learning Networks and associated listservs Attendance at Plexus Conferences PlexusNews Participation in relevant Plexus sponsored research Onsite education and consulting visits, as well as access for more executives, are provided to those organizations selecting the higher value membership options. • And importantly, scholarships are available to organizations that cannot cover the full cost of membership and to individuals who cannot afford the full cost of meeting registration fees.
“Plexus offers a safe, stimulating environment in which participants gain novel insights through interaction with their colleagues.”
It is natural for prospective members to ask: “How will I benefit from joining Plexus?” especially since Plexus does not promise canned solutions or recipes for achieving instant success. Rather, Plexus offers a safe, stimulating environment in which participants gain novel insights through interaction with their colleagues, receive encouragement to use these insights in their home organizations, and find support for their learning and organizational improvement efforts. Issues explored during Plexus conferences, network meetings and workshops read like a wish list of improvements for any organization. Those attract19
ed to Plexus are seeking fresh approaches to:
• Planning in the face of uncertainty • Becoming a more nimble, adaptable organization • Unleashing the full potential of their people • Encouraging greater initiative and experimentation • Achieving greater cooperation among individuals and groups • Reducing unnecessary bureaucracy • Improving quality, efficiency and • Understanding resistance to change productivity • Attracting and keeping talented people • Fostering creativity in research and new service development • Nurturing new leaders • Becoming a better leader
Plexus membership provides an introduction to complexity science, providing participants with a new way of making sense of each of these and other issues by exploring how other complex adaptive systems behave. This provides participants with the background – a new lens – for revising many of the longheld beliefs that underpin traditional views of how the world works. The practical value of this cannot be overemphasized, since our understanding shapes our behavior and, by extension, our realities. Plexus Conferences also provide forums for experiencing complexity in action – the best way to determine its value and relevance. No document, no book, no presentation can compare to personal experience. By design, Plexus conferences offer participants the opportunity to experience first hand the factors that stimulate self-organization and the emergence of novel ideas. This provides exposure to processes that they can try in their own organizations. A central benefit of membership is the many opportunities participants have to interact with other members, share ideas and experiences, and build a network of relationships. Plexus attracts members from very diverse backgrounds but with a common interest in “finding better ways.” Having access to practitioners, scholars and researchers outside one’s own organization and field of expertise is not only stimulating but also a powerful reinforcing and supportive mechanism. Plexus members have the ability to influence the activities of the Institute. Members are free and encouraged to shape agendas, create networks, sponsor workshops, start projects and initiate dialogues with other members. An additional benefit is access to a growing set of resources (see activities) such as: PlexusInstitute.com, PlexusNews, Plexus Listservs, Education and Consulting Offerings, Workshops and Conferences. For organizations participating in Plexus, teams of executives can tap learning opportunities and resources within the Institute as a step in building a critical mass of understanding of complexity science principles and practices and stimulating new approaches to such organization-wide issues as leadership development and planning.
“By design, Plexus conferences offer participants the opportunity to experience first hand the factors that stimulate selforganization and the emergence of novel ideas.”
The Structure and Finances of the Institute
lexus Institute was constituted, in December 2000, as a nonprofit corporation organized under the laws of the state of New Jersey, U.S.A. In July 2001 the Institute’s application to the Internal Revenue Service for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status was approved. The by-laws and certificate of incorporation of the Institute are available upon request. To date, members, volunteering their time, expertise and resources, have supported the development of Plexus. A small staff will now be assembled to support the growth of the Institute and the activities generated by an expanding membership. The role of the staff is to facilitate and support the activities initiated by its members. Initial start-up funding for Plexus Institute was provided by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, by VHA Inc., and by personal donations from over 100 individuals involved in the creation of Plexus. Many of these individuals are also contributing essential services, such as website design, consulting, and legal assistance. At this time the Board of Trustees of Plexus anticipates the need to secure additional donations to put in place the necessary infrastructure, staff, facilities, and offerings of the Institute and to fund individual and organizational scholarships. Future revenue is expected from organizational and professional memberships, educational and consulting services, research awards, conference fees and foundation grants.
The Board of Trustees & Advisory Board
xecutives, students, artists and writers, scientists, nurses, educators, physicians, and government officials have come together through Plexus. This diversity is reflected in the Institute’s Board of Trustees and Advisory Board. Members of the Board of Trustees
Chair – Henri Lipmanowicz, recently retired from a distinguished career at Merck, where he was President of the Merck Intercontinental and Japan Division, and a member of the Management Committee. Vice Chair – Birute Regine, EdD, is a pioneering developmental psychologist who has held positions at Harvard University, Wellesley College and the London School of Economics. She co-authored the widelyacclaimed book The Soul At Work and is a partner in the consulting firm Harvest Associates. Treasurer – James H. Taylor has served as CEO of academic medical centers for almost twenty years. Jim is highly regarded throughout the US for his efforts to improve health care and the leadership of health care organizations. Currently, Jim is president of the University of Louisville Hospital. Secretary – Marilyn Rymer, MD, an internationally respected neurologist, leads the Stroke Center at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City. This center has become a national model, cited by Time magazine as one of the seven finest stroke programs in this country. Marilyn serves on the boards of many national medical and health care organizations. President – Curt Lindberg is playing an important role in introducing complexity science concepts into health care thinking, organizational management and practice. He is the author of articles on complexity and co-author of the book Edgeware: Insights From Complexity Science for Health Care Leaders. Kevin Dooley, PhD, an internationally respected scholar and teacher in the areas of quality management, innovation, and complex systems, is professor of management and industrial engineering at Arizona State University and president of the Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology and Life Sciences. Kevin has published over 100 articles and books. June Holley is president and founder of the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet), a community economic development organization in southeastern Ohio committed to building a healthy and sustainable regional economy based on economic justice, self-determination, and respect for diversity. June was recently awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship at the University of Kentucky. Her work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Ohio Magazine, Entrepreneur, In Business and many other publications. Roger Lewin, PhD, is a world-renowned, prize-winning author of twenty science books, including Complexity: life at the edge of chaos, which was judged to be one of the hundred most important science books of the twentieth century. He is a partner in Harvest Associates, a consultancy company dedicated to business transformation. Thomas Petzinger, Jr., a consultant and entrepreneur, spent 22 years as a reporter, columnist, bureau chief and Washington economics editor at The Wall Street Journal. He is author of The New Pioneers: The Men and Women Who Are Transforming the Workplace and Marketplace, an Amazon.com Top 10 bestseller. He is currently chairman and CEO of LaunchCyte LLC, a bio-informatics technology network in Pittsburgh, Pa. Everett M. Rogers, PhD, is Regents’ Professor, Department of Communication and Journalism, at the University of New Mexico, and is recognized internationally for his pioneering research on the diffusion of innovations. His classic book Diffusion of Innovations will soon be released in its fifth edition. His wide-ranging research involves communities throughout the world and covers such diverse issues technology transfer, cancer and AIDS prevention. Linda Rusch, RN, serves as vice president of patient care services at Hunterdon Medical Center. Linda is widely recognized for her nursing leadership and pioneering work in bringing complexity-based management practices into health care. She received the New Jersey Governor’s Award for leadership excellence. Liz Rykert is the president of Meta Strategies, a Canadian consulting firm devoted to helping charitable, non-profit, and public organizations use the Internet and develop innovative web-based capabilities. Liz helps groups as diverse as AIDS workers in Malawi and Canadian civil servants use online tools to accomplish their work together. Robert Shapiro, Esq., recently served as chairman of Pharmacia Corporation. Prior to this he held leadership positions at many prominent companies, including: vice president and general counsel, Searle; president and CEO, Monsanto Company. The story of his transforming leadership beliefs and practices is featured in The Soul at Work and Surfing The Edge of Chaos. Nicholas Wolter, MD, a specialist in pulmonary and critical care medicine who currently serves as chief executive officer of Deaconess Billings Clinic, a prominent physician, hospital and health care system in Montana, is widely admired for his work in introducing new and better models for delivering health care. 22
Members of the Advisory Board
James W. Begun, PhD, a highly regarded scholar known for his work to strengthen the relationship of complexity science to health care management education and research, is James A. Hamilton Term Professor and Chair, Department of Healthcare Management, Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota. His publications include the book, Strategic Adaptation in the Health Professions: Meeting the Challenges of Change. Glenda Holladay Eoyang, PhD, is a leading voice in the field of human systems dynamics. Her work, which focuses on the theory and practice of chaos and complexity, is represented in her two recent books Facilitating Organization Change: Lessons from Complexity Science and Coping with Chaos: Seven Simple Tools. Her teaching and consulting reach leaders in many organizations. Ellen H. Goldberg, PhD, is president of Santa Fe Institute and research professor of biology at the University of New Mexico. Prior to her tenure at SFI she held numerous positions at the University of New Mexico. Ellen has served on numerous NIH research and leadership councils and received a NIH Research Career Development Award. Ary Goldberger, MD, a cardiologist, directs the Rey Laboratory for Nonlinear Dynamics in Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He is also associate professor of medicine at Harvard University. Ary is one of the country’s leading physician researchers on complexity and human health. Brian Goodwin, PhD, is a professor of biology and coordinator of the MSc program in Holistic Science at the Schumacher College. He is the author of many articles and books, including How The Leopard Changed Its Spots: The Evolution of Complexity, and and Signs of Life: How Complexity Pervades Biology (with Ricard V. Sole). Dr. Goodwin has long been associated with the Santa Fe Institute and is recognized internationally for his pioneering work in complexity and biology. John Holland, PhD, is one of the acknowledged founders of the emerging science of complexity. He is professor of psychology, electrical engineering and computer science at University of Michigan and serves on the Board of Trustees and Science Steering Committee of the Santa Fe Institute. Among John’s many publications are Hidden Order: How Adaptation Builds Complexity and Emergence: From Chaos To Order. Among his many awards is a MacArthur prize. Stuart Kauffman, MD, is widely respected as a founder of complexity science. A winner of the MacArthur “genius” award, Kauffman was among the first researchers invited to join the faculty at the Santa Fe Institute. He is the author of three well-known books - At Home in the Universe, Investigations, and Origins of Order. Dr. Kauffman is chairman and chief scientist of Biosgroup, a company devoted to bringing complexity science applications to the business world. Robert Lindberg, MD, practices internal medicine in Darien, CT. Bob is on the teaching faculty of the Columbia University School of Medicine and also New York Medical College. He is among the first physicians to incorporate complexity concepts into the practice of medicine. Reuben R. McDaniel, Jr., EdD, a widely respected organizational theorist, is Charles and Elizabeth Prothro Regents Chair in Health Care Management and professor of management science and information systems at the University of Texas at Austin. Reuben was one of the first to research the impact of complexityinspired leadership approaches in health care organizations. Gareth Morgan, PhD, is currently distinguished research professor at York University, Toronto, and founder of Newmindsets, an internet-based management learning system. Gareth pioneered the approach of using multiple lenses and metaphors to deepen our understanding of organizations in his classic text Images of Organization. Paul Plsek is an internationally recognized consultant, author and educator on improvement and innovation in organizations. He is dedicated to applying insights from complexity science and innovation research to issues of organizational leadership. Paul speaks and conducts workshops widely on the topic and serves as an advisor to the Institute of Medicine in the US and the National Health Service in the UK. Ralph D. Stacey, PhD, is professor and director, Complexity and Management Centre, University of Hertfordshire, author of many books, including Complexity and Management: Fad or Radical Challenge To Systems Thinking, and one of the world’s leaders in bringing a complexity and relational perspective into the field of management. Edward O. Wilson, PhD, considered to be one of the world's greatest living scientists, has made important contributions to the fields of population genetics, evolutionary biology, entomology, and ethology over his distinguished career. He has written or contributed to over a dozen books, and was awarded Pulitzer Prizes for On Human Nature, and The Ants. A recipient of many of the world’s leading prizes in science and conservation, he is currently Pellegrino University Research Professor at Harvard University. Brenda Zimmerman, PhD, is associate professor of strategy and director of the Health Consortium at McGill University in Montreal. She is the author of many articles applying complexity science to organizational strategy and change, and a co-author of the book Edgeware: Insights From Complexity Science for Health Care Leaders.
“Great ideas come into the world as quietly as doves. Perhaps then, if we listen attentively we shall hear, among the uproar of empires and nations, the faint fluttering of wings, the gentle stirrings of life and hope.” Albert Camus
mportant new scientific discoveries are demonstrating in vivid new detail just how simply nature creates its vast beauty, diversity, and complexity. Many of these principles have been forgotten or lost in the modern age – in business, medicine, education, government, and personal life. It is time to apply this learning in a way that will benefit our health at every level. Plexus Institute invites you to join its community as an individual member, a corporate member, donor or partner, and participate in what Plexus advisor Edward O. Wilson describes as a “grand opportunity before you.”
Contact Curt Lindberg at 609-208-2930 or Curt@PlexusInstitute.org The Olde Mill • PO Box 395 • 42 S. Main St. Allentown, NJ • 08510
You are encouraged to share this document with friends and colleagues. Contact Curt Lindberg if you would like additional copies or an electronic version. The Plexus Institute community wishes to acknowledge and graciously thank Tom Petzinger, Henri Lipmanowicz, Roger Lewin and David Hutchens for writing this story and many Plexus members for contributing ideas and inspiration. We also wish to thank French sculptor Michel Rico for his permission to use his sculpture, La Ronde, as a logo for Plexus Institute. Copyright © 2002, Plexus Institute
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