Complexity Thinking
Complexity theory  as it's applied to organisations  is a way of understanding how a community, an organisation or any group of living things actually behaves in the real world.
Viewing organisations as complex adaptive/evolving systems, complexity thinking discourages approaches that are linear, bounded and overtly analytical. It also discourages any attempt to find simple solutions or, indeed, solutions of any kind  preferring instead a process of continual engagement and adaptation. Triarchy authors Patrick Beautement and Christine Broenner identify four types of complexity: "We all know that the world is complex but we have to acknowledge that the term ‘complexity’ causes difficulties. It means different things to different people and has also become rather a fashionable word to use  you will find it interspersed here and there in speeches or articles. So, what is complexity? We differentiate four different ways of talking about complexity: as it is naturally; as academics see it generally in theory; as it is seen objectively when in some context (contextual); and as experienced subjectively by people as follows: 1. We use the term natural complexity to refer to complexity as it is in the real world  an expression of the phenomena that arise, unadorned by any particular set of abstractions or terminology. Natural complexity exists regardless of the presence of human beings, yet it provides the backdrop to people’s activities  the medium in which people must function. 2. We have coined the term academic complexity to refer to the descriptions and explanations of natural complexity that are provided by complexity scientists using the abstractions of scientific terminology (e.g., emergence, coevolution etc). The following two ways of talking about complexity are necessary because, without them, we cannot reflect sensibly on the activities of practitioners. The first we call contextual complexity as it provides an objective perspective on the realities of the context. The second we call experienced complexity as it describes the realities from the subjective view of practitioners themselves. For practitioners the starting point is not complexity science and its terminology but the natural context and people’s experiences and perceptions of it. 3. So, contextual complexity refers to the types of phenomena manifested in the particular situation with which practitioners are concerned, and describes in objective terms, as far as possible, the context in which they are arising. In practice it has become a kind of myth that complexity on complexity begets only further complexity. If this were true, and complexity was additive in this way, then people would have no choice but to deal with this overwhelming ‘übercomplexity’ in their lives. Yet, selfevidently, for practitioners in a natural context, the underlying causes and complexities are hidden and can, for all intents and purposes, be largely ignored. 4. Lastly then, experienced complexity. This concerns the realworld realities that are experienced subjectively by individuals, or by communities or institutions in a context and are described in terms that make sense to the subject given their abilities, experience and viewpoint. These descriptions can range from commonsense observations (sadly, an undervalued, yet powerful natural ability) of the phenomena to ones that can be highly complicated and contrived. Many are ‘coconstructed’ realities built up in a social context into a set of prejudices or ‘habits’ of thought. Let’s summarise the ways of talking about complexity with an example. A child is pouring out milk for a cat and does this perfectly competently because, for the child, the discernable features in this natural context are ‘simple’ and selfevident (experienced complexity). Yet for complexity scientists there is turbulent flow in the milk and massive underlying complexity in the bodies of the child and the cat and a myriad interactions with bacteria in their environment and so on (academic complexity). For a fuller version of this summary, look at What is Complexity? in the Library of Thoughts. Follow the links below to Triarchy books in this field. Idioticon entries and Thought papers (to your right) are also available to read online, free of charge. Complexity Demystified: A Guide for Practitioners (2011; 268 pages) Drawing on the authors' wide experience of handling projects at a national and international level, this guide presents a clear and systematic framework for how to work with complexity to bring about sustainable change in practice. Adventures in Complexity: For Organisations Near the Edge of Chaos (2009, 146 pages) Offers a more introductory approach to show how complexity theory can be applied in/to organisations. Shows you how to understand things in a complex situation. 
Featured titles:
For Complexity Practitioners:Complexity Demystified: A Guide for Practitioners
How to become adaptive, open and able to engage with evolving situations in order to influence and change things in the moment. For Complexity Beginners:Adventures in Complexity: For Organisations Near the Edge of Chaos The focus of Adventures in Complexity is not so much organisations as the ‘life of organisations’. Author Lesley Kuhn sees organisations as ‘collectives of human activity’ and here describes how complexity theory can be applied in and to organisations. Explore:
Complexity entries in The Idioticon:Complexity Thoughts:
