I have been asked to give a lecture on complexity in a couple of weeks. To do this I need to describe what complexity is, but also, what it isn’t. The film Modern Times, the 1936 movie written, produced and directed by Charlie Chaplin, is a brilliant example of the pitfalls of Scientific Management and the immorality of capitalism if it becomes disjointed from the society and environment it is part of.
Have a look at this clip from Modern Times on You Tube. Nearly 80 years on Chaplin is still more than relevant. Just notice for instance:
- The control from the boss to the workers on the shop floor, increasing or decreasing productivity with levers and pulleys.
- The emphases of mechanisation and subduing human freedom and imagination, even during lunch.
- The constant surveillance on all staff at all times.
- But, in all of this how the system is ‘built to fail’; the rigidity of the processes and equipment fails to adapt to just one well-meaning but slightly eccentric individual.
Ultimately to me, this is a hopeful film. In highlighting the misery, the comedy and immorality he also points the way to a different way of doing business. A way that is more attuned to society, the environment and the imagination, ability and flexibility of its people. And it is here that an understanding of complexity can help.