Ashby’s Law

W. Ross Ashby discovered a law that answers the question: What does it take to manage something?

There are lots of complex ways to state this “law of requisite variety.”  The easy way is to say that “variety EATS variety.” Or you can say that “variety ABSORBS variety.” It has to do with the reality of management.

That’s all very well, but what does it MEAN?

Here’s an example: You go into a grocery store to buy ten apples. But when you try to pick up all those apples, you find that you only have two hands. The “variety” of the apples is ten and your management tool, your hands, only has a variety of two. That makes picking up the apples quite difficult. Of course, you could grow eight more hands. But, we know that’s not practical.

There are at least two ways you can use to get the apples under control. The first is to call in four of your friends. With this help, each of you have two hands and the ten apples can be managed nicely. By calling in your friends, you increased the variety of the management tool to ten hands.

That works. But in the case of a shopping trip, a simpler method is usually used. You can reduce the variety of the apples. By putting the apples in a bag, you can reduce the variety of what needs to be managed. Now you have a management system consisting of two hands and a thing that needs to be carried (or managed) that consists of one bag. Magic presto! With this technique you have reduced, or absorbed, or “eaten” the variety of the apples so that the required variety of the tool for managing them is now one… One hand.

How does this relate to Community Magic?

Since it’s hard to put our populations into a bag, the more people we bring into play to help members of society deal with stress and find the social supports they need, the more likely it will be that our society will be better managed.

Community Magic aims to provide tools for more and more people to be helpful to their neighbors. This will increase the variety of the “management tools” that can make society work well for more of us.