Adaptability and Adaptive Cycles

The term adaptation is used in biology in relation to how living beings adapt to their environments. Flexible systems are those that improve performance (or chances of survival/viability) by monitoring and adjusting its own configuration and operations in response to feedback from its environment.
Adaptability is the ability of a system (e.g. company/organization/state) to adapt itself efficiently and rapidly to changed circumstances by means of transformation and innovation.  An adaptive system is therefore an open system that is able to fit its behavior according to changes in its environment or in parts of the system itself.

A system at any point in time consists of 3 critical interrelated elements where their properties and that determine system sustainability state:

  • Potential: sets the limits to what is possible – the number and kinds of future options available
  • Connectedness : determines the degree to which a system can control its own destiny through internal controls, as distinct from being influenced by external variables
  • Resilience: determines how vulnerable a system is to unexpected disturbances and surprises that can exceed or break that control

All systems experience dynamic adaptive cycles which are based on the properties/dimensions of the the key sustainability elements and  will determine a certain system state: exploitation (rapid growth), conservation stage (system reaches carrying capacity and stabilizes), decline/ extinction and  reorganization. Each of the adaptive cycles requires adaptive governance that is able to effectively recognize the specific adaptive cycle sate (three dimensions) and must tailor its governance model so that its adaptation triggers initiative that maximizes the three sustainability elements optimally.

A system that is the decline/extinction phase requires  a governance model that minimizes damage and is able to swing across to the reorganization  sates with minimal costs to the system by applying the correct adaptation initiative.

In it dynamic condition, system internal and external variables experience system state , they have trajectory  based on its dynamic behavior. Furthermore, system have properties that that determine its adaptive cycle due its characteristics. Form a system governance not only steering is about course correction based on variable system state but also adopting management action based on  the applicable adaptive cycle and its relevant dynamic characteristics in order to initiate effective management action.

Adaptive governance realizes that change is neither continuous and gradual, nor continuously chaotic. It is epicodic (consisting of a series of separate parts or events) , regulated by interactions between fast and slow variables.

Adaptability therefore forms the foundations for Systemic Governance/Steering  by steering towards set-course of know system; or adaptation of set-course (new set-course) by means of transformation and innovation.  System governance implies also understanding:

  • Behavior; from a content perspective System dynamics is an approach to understanding the behavior of complex systems over time. It deals with internal feedback loops and time delays that affect the behavior of the entire system.
  • Adjustment: from a context perspective ensure homeostatic state of equilibrium within horizontal balance and vertical balance which cannot be mutually exclusive.
    • In order to cope with the environment the operations needs to match its variety to that of the environment
    • In order to manage the operation management needs to match its variety to that of the operations