Defining Complexity as a Messy Human


We often forget that the very act of written and verbal communication tends to reduce ideas, especially complex ideas whose very existence is dependent on their context. Even our podcast format, which allows time and space for deep conversations and storytelling, can sometimes limit our ability to formulate and express ideas related to complexity. It is important to remember that our limitations make us vulnerable and human and we have to recognize and acknowledge our limits, in order to grow and make meaningful connections with each other.

Although much of the context is lost during the process of communication, connecting with our community and learning together is why we do what we do. We have talked with many different scientists, practitioners and enthusiasts in the complexity science community and have gathered diverse themes which encompass, explain and (dare we say) define complexity science and complexity thinking. Here is what we have learned:

Complexity science is…

  • The science and history of evolving systems

  • The science of surprise” — John Casti

  • The science of open systems.” — Jean Boulton (ep 75)

  • Dynamic processes and organizing principles for living systems

  • A science of relationships/interrelationships/interdependencies/interactions

  • A science which embraces the philosophy of holism

  • A science (and philosophy) which embraces uncertainty and adaptation and accepts the limits of predictability

Complexity thinking is…

  • Seeing and understanding how patterns change

  • Understanding the history of living systems

  • Understanding how living systems adapt, change and evolve

  • Embracing paradoxes and the “messiness” of life

  • Integrative thinking, feeling and sensing

  • Seeing, feeling, sensing, and experiencing systems, wholes or wholeness

  • Understanding how different levels of analysis interact with one another, ie. interactionism

  • Understanding how innovation occurs in the natural world

  • Understanding system variation, interaction and selection


    “We can think of complexity science and systems thinking as really the sciences of connection rather than the sciences of separation.” — Jeremy Lent (ep 74)

Yes, complexity can be challenging to talk about and define, similar to describing energy. It is all around us and it affects our everyday lives, yet we often struggle to communicate what it really is because we weren’t taught to see it. This means there can be a lot of misunderstandings and miscommunications, so we all need an abundance of tolerance from one another. Learning and personal growth are messy and ongoing processes, but you can find profound beauty (flow) in your journey if you practice openness, connection, creativity and curiosity.

We live in a world of systems, but for the most part we aren’t really taught to see them, to recognize them, to understand them, to make them visible or to work with them. — Linda Booth Sweeney (ep 116)

We encourage you to join us in this messy journey by sharing your “sound bite” explanations or definitions of complexity with us. Send your MP3 file to our email or leave a comment below!

Thank you for being a part of our journey! Cheers.

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