Degrees of Freedom

Modelling complexity is remarkably similar to modelling dynamics.

The more I learn about fractals and their uses in modelling complexity the more parallels I see with the dynamics of movement and processes. So far, so good, the hypothesis is checking out nicely as I test it against various scenarios. I will keep you posted.

I tried to explain this to a couple of my recent audiences, suggesting that the principles we use to regulate movement could be used to regulate complexity. This got me to thinking, and I’m sure you’ve experienced the moment when you are presenting and you have an epiphany: ‘that’s right’, the audience just thinks you are pausing, but you are really having an experience as a lightbulb goes off. I’m all about high risk when presenting, so I tried the inspiration on the audience and it seemed to hit home.

Here’s the epiphany:

If the concepts of process control can be applied to complex situations can we apply the law of degrees of freedom? An object cannot move if all the planes of movement are constrained. If we consider safety, quality, reliability, efficiency, profit and compliance as outcomes of a well run enterprise, we shouldn’t attempt to control them all.

By attempting to manage every outcome the organisation has no degrees of freedom. It becomes overly constrained as it deals with the complications of day to day business creating competition for resource, conflicts, and hence the very complexity that its people cannot resolve.

The answer is in the clarity provided by leadership. A clear purpose, clear process and empowered people, focussed on performance not compliance. You will comply if you empower people to perform. Set goals not constraints, provide education (not training) and let people learn how to best hit the goals.


Author: howardkthomas

I try to make the complex simple for my clients and audiences. I have a deep technical background, a wide ranging business experience and I'm well known for my conversational (and sometimes controversial) style of presentation. This seems to lead to an ever increasing demand for speaking engagements. I've started, developed, bought into and sold a number of businesses, but my main passion and message is the importance of generating value in everything we do. Finally, I believe that advantaged people have a duty to help those less advantaged than themselves. I founded Carnegie Spirit and the Eddie and Elizabeth Thomas Scholarship to promote these ideals.

3 thoughts on “Degrees of Freedom”

  1. I really value this idea, and the unfolding story that comes with it, Howard.

    It echos what I’ve been learning from “The One Thing”, book my Gary Keller. The ONE thing is the thing you will optimise, and frees you to let other things slip.

    Few people have the clarity of the ONE thing they stand for. And as a result – no degrees of freedom. This was a big insight for me personally in 2021 as I reflected on my own life.

    Oh how we crave the clarity of Priority, not priorities.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: