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1 Year in with YP-CDN: Embracing the Power of Complexity for Good

By Eric Obscherning Moderator | 05 May, 2016

This week marks my 1st year as Community Organizer of the Young Professionals Chronic Disease Network. I'm so pleased with what we have done together in the last year and I'm so excited about what's ahead.

My 1st year with YP-CDN has given me a number of opportunities to better understand the nuance around NCDs—from clinic to country, from context to cause, from consequence to control—and to observe and interact with the systems made to manage these parts. But beyond YP-CDN's work, my 1st year has also inspired an insight about YP-CDN itself. Allow me to explain.

Whether it's a programmer with some lines of code, a doctor with a diagnosis, or an artist with a brand redesign, we talk about "complexity" as if it's a bad thing—something to be feared or a problem to be fixed. We say "the thing is too complex, it needs to be simpler."

But my understanding is this: YP-CDN is an organization that inherently embraces the power of complexity. Moreover, YP-CDN is a complex system; and with that comes a great power which can be used for good.

But how is the organization a complex system? And how does it embrace the power of complexity for good? Here are 3 examples.

First, complex systems like YP-CDN are emergent, meaning unexpected and even unknown outputs can emerge from expected and known inputs. To explain it another way, emergence is one of the reasons why the “whole” truly “is greater than the sum of its parts.” For us, this is most apparent among our +5,000 members across +157 countries, and the things that ‘do' most of the emerging, so to speak, are simply ideas. Each member is a known part of the system. Each member has their own ideas. But strange and beautiful things emerge when members collaborate, or run into, or influence each other, however mindfully or randomly. This is both the action of innovation and the action of democracy. Emergence is what gives us not only “good” ideas, but ideas that are new, and often, paradoxically, simple.

Second, complex systems like YP-CDN have feedback loops, meaning those emergent outputs go on to affect the inputs that provided for their emergence in the first place. We see this when an idea from Nigeria feeds back into a policy in Geneva, however conscious, subconscious, or unconscious. It's the pharma company making a change for the better, and their competitors doing the same to keep up. This is, in essence, a kind of collective learning. This is measurement, evaluation, and improvement all together at once. Feedback is what allows those emergent ideas to grow into something greater, into actual change, into more and better ideas.

Third, and finally, complex systems like YP-CDN are nonlinear, meaning cause and effect are not proportional. It's the “butterfly effect”—a butterfly flaps its wings once and causes a hurricane on the other side of the world. This is a key nature of our movement—of all social movements, in fact. That old saying, “change doesn't happen overnight” is sort of both right and wrong when it comes to our work. YP-CDN is a single butterfly, flapping its little wings in one tiny space of air in one corner of the world—and we'll do this for years, not for one night. But then, after a single flap, the hurricane forms, unexpected and random. Irrevocable change occurs in a relative instant.

Nonlinearity is the most powerful aspect of complexity for me and for the organization. It becomes my scientific proof for optimism. I wake up every morning thinking this could be the day the hurricane forms after all our seemingly insignificant flapping, and it makes the flapping significant. I wake up hopeful, and I'm a better human being because of that.


This Community is Archived.

This community is no longer active as of December 2018. Thanks to those who posted here and made this information available to others visiting the site.