On Complexity — The Problems, The Solutions (Or Directions)

In my field of work, “complexity” has become not just a casual and flippant description for how involved things are (cause, that’s what systems are), but a significant framework and rigor for helping to distinguish between layers of problems and layers of solutions (or movements) that help to create some good. The model that I use most often to help myself and groups learning in this is Cynefin, developed significantly by the work of Dave Snowden. However, the person I most often go to as a colleague in this is Chris Corrigan. He has done oodles working with this realm over the last 10 years or so, and cynefin has become a regular offering within Art of Hosting trainings.

Chris posted a piece recently that was intended on helping to work with naysayers, people who say “ya but” when encountering the Cynefin framework. I particularly appreciated these distinctions below, not just for naysayers, but also for general understanding:

Obvious (does the door open in or out — try it and you will know)

  • knowable problems,
  • predictable, simple solutions

Complicated (why is the door squeaking — ask a builder about hinges rusting, swelled framing from weather, ground shifting under the home or other possibilities)

  • knowable problems
  • predictable solutions, but only with expert help and analysis

Complex (do doors serve us in this open building design — beware the convenience of one expert; process matters as much as solution; the “how” matters as much as the “what”)

  • unknowable and ever changing problems
  • unpredictable but multiple emergent ways of addressing them

Chaotic (grab the door, it’s about to fall on the person standing next to it — just do it; figure out the why later)

  • unknowable and unpredictable problems
  • not enough time to think about a solution

Disordered (what is this thing you call a door — truth be told, I have a hard time understanding the disordered realm; I have a strong orientation toward “there is always order in disorder” because life, and people, can’t help but begin even the most subtle of organizing.)

  • where you don’t know what kind of problem you have

Enjoy the read on Chris’ site. I find this framework continues to teach me and help grow people in some appreciated nuances of their / our work.

Here’s a few other reflections on complexity that I’ve written over the years:

In Complexity, All Stories Are True?

Where Does Movement Come From in Complex Systems?






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