Towards WE & BEYOND – Impressions from a shared journey Part VII

“Complicated” or “Complex” – does it matter ??? !!

Why are we dealing with this question, you might wonder. Well, by now it has dawned on us that the story we would like to share is a complex rather than a complicated one, one for which the linear approach of writing a book seems to be somewhat insufficient and inappropriate.

Why complex rather than complicated? Does it matter? Well, a key difference between the two is that if something is complicated we can study it, analyse it, and if we work really hard we can understand such a system. The best thing is, by analysing and understanding how such a system has worked and behaved in the past, we will be able to say with almost certainty how it will behave in the future. A system that is complicated may be complicated, but it is understandable, it is certain, it is predictable, and it can be influenced and controlled (doesn’t it sound like management heaven?). Those promoting a ‘the world is complicated’ view include Newton and Descartes. To thrive in a complicate system we will thrive if we study and work hard.

A complex system on the other hand does not offer such comfort. While we might be able to analyse and understand how a complex system has behaved in the past this, unfortunately, does not help us predict, with certainty and reliability, how it will behave in future! A bit of a bummer that … Particularly as most of us like to feel in control, like to think we are in control… Representatives of ‘the world is complex’ view include Aristotle and quantum physics scientists. To thrive in a complex system studying and working hard will not do the trick. Almost on the contrary, almost (it is a little like staring hard at a star in the night sky – you will loose it! Only if you glance sideways, using your peripheral vision will you be able to keep focus on it). In a complex system flexibility, agility, constant aligning movement and high alertness to what is happening in our peripheral vision are key.

As it happens, LIFE is not complicated, it is complex. Perhaps it is time to introduce a definition of complexity. The most famous quote about Complex Systems does probably come from Aristole who said that “The whole is more than the sum of its parts”. To add to that we would like to call on Herbert Simon who wrote in his 1981 publication The Science of the Artificial, “Complex systems as systems that are made up of a large number of parts that interact in a non-simple way. In such systems the whole is more than the sum of the parts, not in an ultimate metaphysical sense, but in the important but pragmatic sense that, given the properties of the parts and the laws of their interaction, it is not a trivial matter to infer the properties of the whole.” Perhaps a simpler way of saying this is: Both complex and complicated systems have many parts. What makes a complex system tricky is that we cannot predict how the parts will interact, and what the consequence of their unpredictable interactions will be.

Is our world more complex today than 15-20 years ago? We believe so. Think of all the possible connections and interactions that are being facilitated by the internet! You do not need to join a club to find like-minded people, you google and find them, from all geographies, within a couple of seconds. For us there is no doubt, in the world in which life is more complex than ever before, even with all the best will and tools globally available the belief that we can predicting the future is an illusion. (A question that comes to mind immediately, is our current educational system helping to live in a complicated or complex context? However, this is a matter for another discussion …)

That much for ‘complicated and complex.’

What makes our story complex rather than complicated? Well, there are four interwoven and often interconnected story-lines that want to be told. Embedded in the evolution of mankind and societies, we aim to explore the development of innovation since the emergence of the scientific method with Newton and Descartes in the 17th century and reaching into innovation challenges and opportunities of today and beyond.

While this may sound like a linear pursuit, and you may wonder what is new about it, why yet another book on innovation?!

Well, we intend to bring this rather demure storyline to life by weaving in stories of our own professional development and personal mastery; stories that have unfolded over the past 25 years during which both of us have been active innovators and pathfinders ourselves.

So there will be these four strands:

  • evolution of mankind since its beginning

  • evolution of innovation since the 17th century

  • Bettina’s evolution of perspectives on innovation

  • Dorothea’s evolution of perspectives on innovation

When we first discussed this, we thought this will become complicated, meaning that with enough hard analytical work and discipline we will get the job done. By now we have realised that the nature of our project is rather complex, which means we need to give it space and time, and let a structure emerge.

What a long entry this has become…. leading to our seventh insight: The dominant model for solving problems today is through rigorous focus and thought discipline. While that works perfectly fine in a world that is complicated, it is insufficient for a context that is increasingly complex. To solve the complex (interwoven, interconnected, interdependent) problems we are facing today we need to learn to create the space to let emerge and unfold, then observe and capture what becomes visible in the interplay of multiple factors.

#webeyondproject

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