Self organizing systems exercise LO13383

Myers, Kent (
Thu, 24 Apr 1997 17:39:12 -0400

Replying to LO13340 --

I was surprised to see that there weren't obvious answers to the request
for a self-organization exercise. Is there a reason? Some possibilities:

a. Self-organization may enable good results, but other influences
confound the situation. ("Of course we could fix the YMCA -- we had
equipment and materials on hand.")

b. Results from a self-organized system can always be accounted using
more conventional explanations. ("Of course the YMCA looks good -- each
of us worked hard.")

c. There are few situations where it is practical to create comparable
experiences of high and low self-organization. ("You want us to fix a
second WMCA, but without talking to each other?!")

Thomas Petzinger's other exercise -- cooking a meal for hungry people
under deadline -- convinces me, but I'm confirming a pre-existing
concept/prejudice. I'm not sure most participants would acquire the
concept from that exercise, even though the exercise has many features
that would be necessary for a convincing exercise: clear results, no roles
except those invented, etc. Debbie Broome mentions additional features,
such as looseness in the goal, and strong time pressure. I don't agree
with her that, because self-organization is "natural", that we can't make
it more likely through design. Which means I have to come up with an
exercise to prove it.

All I can think of at the moment is bicycle racing, which is not something
that you can have your participants do, but at least you can explain how
it demonstrates self-organization. (Somebody should build the simulation
in software.) For a rider to have a chance, he must stay in the large
pack. To get ahead of the pack, he must work with a small pack. People
in the small pack have to take turns pushing air at the front, otherwise
the large pack will surely catch up. Everyone has to be extremely
disciplined and smooth in order to travel efficiently, yet every pack
contains bitter rivals! The main pack (the peleton) is said to have a
mind of its own. It speeds up and slows down, often without anybody
deciding, and attempts to change its pace often don't work. People might
dismiss the example as just a case of flocking, but it is expert people
who are thinking, working, and competing very hard who emerge in this
order. New or unskilled racers are often strong, but since they are
disruptive, they aren't invited into the peleton and can't go nearly as

Unfortunately, the task remains to explain how the analogy applies to


Kent Myers Alexandria, VA

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