PatchWorks Designs:
Finding Solutions to Complex Problems by Creating and Engaging Complex Systems

James B. Smethurst and Gail Taylor


[Editor's Note: The philosophy and procedures of PatchWorks Designs were developed by Matt Taylor.]

The most challenging aspect of complex adaptive systems is that even though the systems function beautifully, no single part of the system is in control. Which tree, for example, runs the forest? Which is the head neuron in the brain? How is the "boss fish" selected in a tidal pool? These questions are, of course, absurd. The tree has no sense of "forest". The neuron does not know that such a thing as a "brain" exists. As part of the system, the individual organism does not come equipped to see or understand the system as a whole.

In more and more areas, we as individuals, as communities and as organizations are recognizing that we exist as individual organisms in complex systems. Industries, markets, economies, and communities of practice that span the globe have become tied to our daily existence through technology and increasing demands on us for innovation and change. Who owns pollution? How can we change laws designed for industry into laws that help an economy based on networks and Enterprises of One? How does the system of education change?

As individual organisms (whose scale ranges from a human being to a multi-national corporation), we operate WITHIN overlapping complex systems. As we become aware of these systems, we also want to change them and our roles in them. Changes in one part of a system, however, can cause chaotic, unanticipated changes in other parts of the system: the classic example is that of a flap of a butterfly's wings causing weather changes across the globe. Therefore responsible change--designed system-wide change--requires being able to see and understand the whole system. Therefore we begin to explore, as individuals, the nature of the systems we are tied up in so that we can influence systems without destroying them accidentally. We allocate resources (time, energy, people, funds, technology) to research the larger systems so that our lives can be made easier and simpler. What we cannot see, however, is the entirety of the systems we are involved in. Because we are part of the system, we can only understand it from our own vantage point, and we can therefore only grasp small pieces of the complexity.

So we are each exploring our own microcosms of the vast networks in which we operate, and individually, we are learning at a phenomenal rate, yet very rarely are sharing what we learn. Organisms can be organized into patches that share their learnings and research resources. The patches can be woven together to create a quilt that unites vantage points and learnings from an entire web of organisms who are coming to terms with the same complex systems. As a quilt, then, the organisms in a complex system can even coordinate themselves to design strategic change.

PatchWorks Designs brings together the organisms and fragments of knowledge in a complex system, and using the Design-Build-Use way of working, facilitates a systems integration dialogue in a compressed period of time. PatchWorks Designs creates a "Game", an infinite game, that allows all players to succeed by gaining deeper insight into their particular vantage point and by realizing how their vantage point combines with others to create a new and very valuable framework for themselves and for society as a whole. Using MG Taylor's principles and methodologies of design, PatchWorks Designs organizes thousands of individuals from widely diverse organizations into Patches and facilitates those Patches through an intense collaborative design process.

Each Game is proposed by either MG Taylor or by an outside sponsor who has an interest in solving a complex problem. Investors of any size are then invited to contribute resources to the Game: the sponsor organization usually supports a large portion of the cost of the game, but all of the players in the Game are also investors. Organizations of all kinds and sizes will play the same Game because the vantage points of non-profits, multi-nationals, government organizations and enterprises of one all weave together to form the framework for solutions. (Players for a particular Game will either come from non-competitive fields, or will agree to co-opetition before the Game begins.) Investing organizations also select members of their organization (or others) to be players in the Game, the level of investment determining the number of players that the organization can sponsor. By investing any amount, however, players will gain access to the resources of all of the other players, including finances several orders of magnitude greater than their investment and the Intellectual Capital of hundreds of organizations.

PatchWorks Designs is system integration and facilitation. MG Taylor organizes the Patches (groups) in which individuals play the Game, and then designs the process the Patches will use to create and dissolve their complex problem (see the rules of Patch Theory). The Game takes place in MG Taylor's knOwhere Stores located throughout the country and capitalizes on the full range of services that the knOwhere Stores offer:

Weak Signal® Research Tools for scanning the environments for emergent trends in business, society or technology
7 Domains® Workshops Explorations of the MG Taylor processes, philosophy and modeling language
CHOICE™ Workshops Strategic planning for individuals and families
Skills Workshops Events to help individuals become proficient with skills for the Knowledge Economy. Includes: modeling, visual representation of information, information management, facilitation, documentation.
DesignShop® Events Three-day design events with 30 to 100 participants
Syntopical Readings Participants bring the perspectives of different authors to bear on a specific subject in a facilitated session
Small Team Facilitation Design work facilitated and documented in knOwhere environments
WAWD Team Sessions Access to experts from across the MG Taylor ValueWeb™ community
Kiosks and Displays Access to virtual and physical displays of vast amounts of information in knOwhere Stores
Virtual Conferences On-line discussion and design
Remote Collaboration Groups simultaneously work on the same issue in different knOwhere Stores across the country
Analysis and Research Provided by MG Taylor's network of Knowledge Workers
Publication on the World Wide Web Documentation and work products published on the Internet
Delphi's Challenging and interactive surveys designed to engage participants in new ways of thinking about the subject at hand
Formal Polling Methods Testing the assumptions and beliefs of the network
Organization of Patches MG Taylor (in collaboration with the sponsor) designs the make-up of the Patches and the boundaries of the Game

The knOwhere Stores provide the Environment in which true collaborative design can occur, as well as Knowledge Management and management of the 7 Domains.

In addition to the final products created for each investor, each Game generates a book that documents and tells the story of Game, the players and the design process. Copies of the book are provided to each of the players, and are also sold through the knOwhere Stores. These books are exciting stories of groundbreaking work in some of the most complex and challenging areas of society today.

PatchWorks Designs offers individuals, corporations, governments, unions and communities an opportunity for genuine, real-time change across industries, ValueWeb communities, politics and frames of reference. Individual organisms cannot change or hope to understand complex systems, but by using the very qualities of complexity that confound us to design solutions, networks of organisms can see whole systems and shift their direction.

A PatchWorks Designs Game gives each player access to an entire web of experts, learners, facilitators, investors, customers, and producers who are all brought together by a shared interest. This network represents more vantage points and expertise than any single organization could hope to bring to bear on its internal issues. By investing in a Game, an organization gains access to a huge, organized body of knowledge that it can leverage to solve problems and to forge relationships that it can use well beyond the duration of the Game itself.

The most powerful resource today is knowledge. Learning to find, share, and use knowledge is the vital task of successful organizations. PatchWorks Designs creates the field in which knowledge about a particular issue abounds. What better place to play a Game?

copyright © 1998, MG Taylor Corporation. All rights reserved
copyrights, terms and conditions


© MG Taylor Corporation, 1995 - 2002

iteration 3.5