I have recently entered into some very interesting dialogue via email with Dr. Dimitris Antoniadis, who has been generous enough to share with me much of his doctoral research into complexity and the UK construction industry. His research suggests that there has been very little progress in terms of performance of the industry over the last 20 years. The conclusion though is that complexity theory in this domain can definitely contribute to improving the performance of construction projects, many of which consist of many different types of organisation, which creates on a temporary basis a far more multiorganisational structure.
If we look at some of the causes of failure and poor performance, we can see that there is still a considerable failure even to define complexity, with only 10% of those surveyed responding that their organisations do define it. From a related analysis of 31 depth-interviews, only 41% of project managers replied that they were using any formal tools to define and manage complexity, and the majority of these related to risk assessment tools and techniques. The two figures below show the perceived sources of this complexity.
Dimitris believes that most research in organisational complexity has focussed on the individual elements, rather than attempting to understand how complexity can arise from the myriad interactions between these parts. He also suggests that there has been a general failure to pay attention to the socio-organisational aspects of complex interactions, and the impact of these on management style and project structuring.
From his research with Project Management practitioners, Dimitris has been able to develop a new framework he calls F4MCI® for managing the complexity of these interactions.
The F4MCI® is a suit of tools that enable the management of the effects of complexity through specific project management processes by using taking action(s) for its characteristics. The Framework’s Objective is to enable Project Managers (PM) and Team Leaders (TLs) to manage the effects of complexity of interconnections on the project through the respective project management processes. The project management sub-processes, for which the F4MCI® has been designed at this stage, and which are part of measuring the Project Management Outcome are:
• Selecting project team members
• Structuring the project team as well as
• The Management style to be adopted
I think what is progressive about this work is that a common complaint by business executives is that when they are first introduced to complexity science, they can often be left thinking “So what?” They are left without any tools for applying complexity science in a business context. Margaret Wheatley’s Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World and Fritjof Capra’s Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems are both widely read books, both of which I think are excellent, but they do not address this issue.
Dimitris and his colleagues though have taken a comprehensive list of complexity characteristics, and translated these into a tool which has been validated by Project Managers. The characteristics of complexity they identified were inspired by Chris Lucas , and are:
- Undefined values
- Autonomous agents
- Downward causation
- Phase changes
Dimitris summarises his work as follows:
The overall aim of the research outlined above was to investigate the effect of complexity of interconnections on the project performance through the socioorganisational sub-processes of selecting team members and structuring the project team as well as the management styles adopted, and thus develop a framework which will enable the management of these effects. It is hoped the investigation will enable all project managers, not only those in construction, to understand the effects and implications of complex interconnections and that the framework developed will enable the management of these effects and contribute towards the improvement of the project performance. 
Looking through all of this work got me thinking about how it relates to the work I have been doing on complexity. I am interested in the relationship between tools, frameworks, paradigms, and mental models, and the way I look at complexity science is through the dynamical way of seeing which could be described as a phenomenological way of seeing, or a hermeneutical way of seeing. It is a very organic way of seeing, and in this way of seeing, one moves out of a mechanistic way of seeing, to one where as Henri Bortoft puts it, you go upstream into the act of seeing itself, where you are able to comprehend the coming-into-being of living systems. With this way of seeing, you are no longer seeing a fragmented world of objects, but you are coming into contact with the dynamic processes of living systems, and in this way of seeing one can only approach these dynamic processes through one’s intuition and not via ones normal rational and logical mind, based on Cartesian and Euclidean geometry and logic of solid objects.
Whew – what the heck did that all mean?
Another way to look at this is via the wonderful wood carving of Albrecht Dürer, who created a new way for painters to create drawings in true perspective.
Albrecht Dürer, Draftsman Drawing a Reclining Woman, Woodcut, 1525, Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna
In this self-portrait, Dürer is using a physical framework to capture the external features of his subject, a woman, partly clothed, draped as a goddess, perhaps like Aphrodite, the goddess of love. While the framework can certainly capture some physical aspects of the subject, many qualitative aspects are lost, the great impact of her beauty and her ability to move us emotionally. This is all lost by the framework, rendering her now in 2 dimensional space.
In business we use the term framework wantonly and with wild abandon, never really considering just what the deeper implications are. And likewise in science, we use the term paradigm just as loosely, with endless calls for new paradigms to help us solve complex problems, and to find new answers to age old questions.
Frameworks and paradigms are born of our mental models, our world views, and more often than not these are limited. These are limited to the extent that even the wildest conceptualisations of quantum theory can still be regarded as offering a limited view of reality. I think we should regard frameworks and paradigms as tools, and tools are often designed for specific purposes. If we can recognise these limitations in our thinking, then we can enter into true dialogues, as envisaged by David Bohm, who encouraged us to put as much energy into understand the meaning of what others were trying to communicate, as we put into our own efforts to put across what we wish to communicate. The result is then a much larger pool of meaning, a collective meaning, larger than any single one of us, out of which new meanings, ideas and creative solutions can emerge.
What Dimitris and his colleagues have developed is an excellent framework for helping project managers better understand the various sources of complexity in their work, and this includes the softer socio-organisational aspects which can have such a great impact on a project’s success. This does not though affect the overall aim of the project, which in these instances are to build what ever mega structures are being conceived.
There is a deeper form of knowing which comes from what Henri Bortoft describes as “doing philosophical work”. By this Henri was saying that you can not just study books, words, and other people’s verbal descriptions of their insights, you actually have to experience in your intuition the deep insights gained from the dynamical way of seeing. From this way of seeing the world is a movement in thinking, one which moves from seeing fragments, objects, things, to seeing in terms of dynamic processes, and conceiving not atoms, or particles as the foundational building blocks of reality, but relationship, relationship which flows within a whole.
I am now attempting to describe the indescribable, so I shall stop blogging at this point. What I would like to do though is open up this dialogue in the comment section below, to Dimitris and anyone else who would like to comment on these themes. His work consisted not just of surveys and interviews, but 5 in-depth case studies, and these offer an excellent insight as to how complexity science can be practically implemented in some of the most interwoven and complex business environments there are.
 Dimitris Antoniadis et. al (2012) Structuring of Project Teams and Complexity in Project Perspectives 2012, p78-85, IPMA
 Chris Lucas The Philosophy of Complexity
 Dimitris Antoniadis Executive behaviours and Decision Making in Complex Environments – Where Complexity Begins and Ends
Henri Bortoft (1996) The Wholeness of Nature Floris Books