From a simple set of rules can come surprising behavior, both good and bad. Complex Adaptive Systems
and Swarm Intelligence
posts assume mostly this is a good thing — less bureaucracy and micromanagement should free people and organisations up to do their best work.
What if the simple rules instead lead to the opposite effect?
Quite often in organisations that do stupid things, it’s hard to pin the stupid decisions on any one person even in retrospect, and there may be no stupid individuals involved. Sometimes, … the people are very smart …
In any organisation, leaders should reflect on the simple rules that people follow even when they’re not thinking, and ask if they’re more likely to generate intelligence or stupidity.
There is no innate human drive to avoid stupidity. We evolved to survive and thrive and that means getting along with others — that’s our priority, most of the time. [for example] avoiding open disagreement reduces the collective intelligence of any group. The more that members of a group follow a rule like ‘agree with the consensus’ or ‘agree with the leader’ the less gets contributed to the general pool of ideas and arguments. The shallower the pool, the more likely it is that something stupid will crawl out from it, covered in slime.
This is a good caution that no system is infallible and emergent behavior needs to be constantly monitored to make sure it is heading in a desirable direction. This can be tricky to balance as by the time patterns begin to emerge it may be difficult to course correct the system without dramatic interventions that go against the original intent to keep the rules simple. In this way it is easy to see how rules and bureaucracy build from originally idealistic ambitions about simplicity.