The extent to which the parts of a system are joined up in links of reciprocity, dependency and/or control.

In a complex system there is a tautly connected network of exchange of information, instructions, control and stimulus—of oxygen, water, sugars, adrenaline and endorphins, or of food, goods and services, or of weapons and reinforcements. These lines of communication are key to the competence of the complex system, but they also make it vulnerable because they are costly to maintain; they can be destroyed, are hard to repair, and a breakage in just one of them can be enough to destroy the whole organism or system.

In a modular system, by contrast, these connections are slack; they do not need to be in working order all the time; there may be time-lags; they have relatively little work to do, because the parts of a modular system have a high degree of self-reliance. This means that a modular system has the advantage of recovery-elastic resilience, but lacks the preventive resilience of the complex system.

As a modular system intensifies—transforming itself into a complicated system—it increases its connectedness, which brings many advantages of capability and preventive resilience, but comes at the cost of the heavy infrastructure of connections which the system must maintain and repair. As it grows, and as its infrastructure becomes more costly (through wear-and-tear, loss of practical competence by the system’s centres of intelligence and decision-making, and/or attack by predators inside and outside the system), the task of maintaining the network of connectedness becomes increasingly burdensome. And, with every response to these problems, there is a tendency to add another layer of connectedness and control.

In due course, a level of elaboration and hyperconnectedness is reached which the living system can no longer support, and it is destroyed. That shock may be at the level of creative destruction, which opens the way to a new, uncluttered beginning on the same basic model; or it may set the system on a different path, leading to a radically different form (Lean Logic’s name for both these kinds of shock is kaikaku). Or it may be a hypershock, closing off the possibility of a living system of any kind.


Related entries:

Resilience > Resilient Systems > Connectedness, Systems Thinking, Wheel of Life.

« Back to List of Entries
David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was an economist, historian and writer, based in London. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, Lean Logic and Surviving the Future. A film about his perspective and legacy - The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation? - was released in 2019, directed by BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong. For more information, including on Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

Comment on this entry: