I’m having a lot of fun working with my colleague, Gokce Sargut on a project for how you can comprehend and function in complex environments. One of the insights from our research that I though was really interesting is that you can tackle complex situations by building in two kinds of buffers. One type buffers your choices across time—so that you can buy time to get more information or reduce the risk of a systemic collapse all at once. An example is triage in an emergency medical situation. It buys time for the system as a whole to utilize its resources more effectively.
The other kind of buffer is buffering in space. Making situations less interdependent, building in redundancy and creating modular structures are all ways in which you can prevent a problem in one part of the system from spreading everywhere. Nucor Steel, for instance, has similar engineering and scientific capabilities in different divisions. When one has a problem, it doesn’t spread to the others. Moreover, the others can pitch in and help address the issue. So even though you might think redundancy is expensive and inefficient, it actually makes the organizational system as a whole more resilient.