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The Red Queen Trap

Reflections on The Red Queen Trap by Teodor Mitew

Uses systems thinking to explore why Universities find themselves falling into the Red Queen Trap

It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place


Systems need to expend energy to maintain themselves and to respond to changes in external conditions. Mismatch between internal state and external conditions requires more energy to “perform itself into existence”. Thus reducing energy available to “grow, expand or replicate itself”

Characterises systems on two axes

  1. Homogeneity - more homogeneity means less cost to maintain state
  2. Distribution - more distribution makes it easier to react faster.


Complex systems (large organisations) tends to be heterogeneous and centralised. Thus making it hard leading to “a growing number of errors in the internal state of the system” which makes it harder to react to changes.

How to free up the energy required to respond effectively to external change?


Two options

  1. Seductively easy - “sacrifice the periphery (or elements of it) and preserve the decision making core”
  2. Unthinkable - “sacrifice the centre and preserve the periphery”

This appears only to be moving on the one axes - distribution/centralisation. Wouldn’t another possible solution be to increase homogeneity? Isn’t that what Oz higher ed is doing?