Oh, Modern Times

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.

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