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Ask yourself what might be holdin g these patterns in place. Recently I have been doing this by asking groups to look at the patterns they have identified and answer this question. This is one adaptation of part of the process called TRIZ which seeks to uncover principles and patterns.

Ask what principles would give you the behaviours that you are seeing? You are trying to find principles that are hypotheses, things you can test and learn more about. Those principles are what you are aiming to change, to therefore shift behaviour. A key piece of complexity as a theory of change is that constraints influence behaviour.

In a road safety initiative this will direct you towards a monitoring strategy and towards context specific actions for certain places that are more unsafe than others. The only way to eliminate accidents is to ban cars. That may be one strategy, and in certain places that might be how you do it. It will of course generate other problems, and you have to be aware and monitor for those as well.

The Idea of Writing

What can we possibly change to take us towards a better state? What is the system inclined to do? Banning cars might not be that adjacent possible. He pioneers and research constraint based learning for children at the AIK academy. Rather than teach children strategy, he creates the conditions so that they can discover it for themselves. He gives children simple rules to follow in constrained game simulated situations and lets them explore and experiment with solutions to problems in a dynamic context.

Principles aimed at changing the constraints will help design interventions to shift patterns. Design actions aimed at shifting constraints and monitor them closely. These are called safe to fail probes. In the road safety example, probes might include placing temporary speed bumps on the road, installing reflective tape or silhouettes on posts at pedestrian crossings, placing a large object on the road to constrain the driving lanes and cause drivers to slow down.

All of these probes will give you information about how to shift the patterns in the system, and some might produce results that will inspire you to make them more permanent. But in addition to monitoring for success, you have to also monitor for emergent side effects. Slowing traffic down might increase delays for drivers, meaning that they drive with more frustration, meaning more fender benders elsewhere in the system.

Complex adaptive systems produce emergent outcomes. You have to watch for them. Evaluate the effectiveness of your principles in changing the constraints in the system. Evaluation in complex systems is about monitoring and watching what develops as you work.

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It is not about measuring the results of your work, doing a gap analysis and making recommendations. There are many, many approaches to evaluation , and you have to be smart in using the methods that work for the nature of the problem you are facing. In my opinion we all need become much more literate in evaluation theory, because done poorly, evaluation can have the effect of constraining change work into a few easily observed outcomes.

One form of evaluation that is getting my attention is principles-based evaluation , which helps you to look at the effectiveness of the principles you are using to guide action. This is why using principles as a framework helps to plan, act and evaluate. Monitor and repeat.

Working on complex problems has no end. A traffic safety initiative will change over time due to factors well outside the control of an organization to respond to it.

The 7 Levels of Jazz Harmony

And so there never can be an end point to the work. Strategies will have an effect and then you need to look at the current state again and repeat the process. Embedding this cycle in daily practice is actually good capacity building and teams and organizations that can do this become more responsive and strategic over time. Complexity IS indeed a theory of change.

The Idea of Writing: Play and Complexity

Hi Chris. Thanks for this very clear discussion of working with change in complex situations. I use very similar ideas but am always looking for different ways to describe them. Hi Chris, thanks for writing this. That is fine, apart from that your thesis that Complexity is a theory of change would be further fleshed out when these domains of application where covered too.

Sometimes 10 is the best one can do, 80 are usually better, are sufficient unless the diversity of contents mandates a few thousand self-interpreted narratives.

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There are complex aspects to challenges. And complicated and organisational and chaotic and autonomous and identity related, etc.


The SenseCanvas a. Hexagon Sensemaking Canvas has show to perform well for sensemaking situations where inside-out and outside-in pattern changes occur. Yes this post is written from that context of funders and grantees, which is the locus for a ton of social change work. Love the book. Love the miniseries.

Complexity as dusting

But so much was chopped out of the story to fit it into two hours that I defy anyone, no matter how much attention they pay it, to figure out how Smiley figures it all out. Felt the same way about Tinker Tailor.. Am biased because I loved the miniseries. And his books. In regards to the character number, is this just based off of the main protagonists or does it also include the antagonists as well?

Implementation, context and complexity

The film cuts around to a massive cast of interconnected characters, including rogue Soviet submarine captain Marko Ramius, who drives so much of the film that he seems to be competing for the protagonist slot. Not only that, but the story is so crammed with exposition about the obscure and hyper-specific world of military submarines that at times it feels like science fiction.

So how did that film manage not to lose everybody? Nobody knows why Ramius has gone rogue and stolen a submarine, and so at first the big dramatic question is: can Jack figure it out before a war starts? Our understanding develops with the drama. Stretching out the mystery too long would get frustrating, so by end of act one Jack realizes that Ramius is actually trying to defect. The new question becomes: can Jack convince everybody else before a war starts? He manages to convince people, leading to the question: can they get to Ramius in time?

Like an American football game, we keep gaining yardage, but the first down line moves with us, leading the action downfield. The entire story is paced like an action movie, even though most scenes involve people standing around on submarines.

Note: much credit for this belongs with the director, 80s action guru John McTernan, but the writing charts the course for him, keeping scenes lean to offset the dense plot. Exposition is embedded in the action.

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