Working in Complexity

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.”
- Heraclitus
This section aims to build a simple, shared mental model about complexity, but doesn’t go deep into latest insights from contributing disciplines, such as complexity science or systems theory. If you want to learn more, see the Complexity appendix with suggested reading.


Working in complexity is like trying to find your way in a forest cloaked in fog. It’s hard to know precisely where you will end up if you follow a direction, and there’s no guarantee it will be where you want to go.
Even if you know the landscape well, you could easily trip up on a newly fallen tree, slip on a new patch of mud, or even walk off a cliff if the fog is thick enough. The landscape can change, and with enough fog we can easily get lost or take a wrong step.
Instead of just following a direction (such as a pre-prepared plan), what is proposed is to act in the spirit and mode of wayfinding, not navigating.
Wayfinding is a process of paying constant attention to the current and changing conditions, whilst trying to get to a preferred destination or state.
Navigating is the activity of accurately ascertaining one's position and planning and following a route.
Practically speaking, that means we need:
  • To envision where we want to go
  • Have a number of ways we can may try to get there
  • Pay constant attention to weak and strong signals, to ensure we’re heading where we want to go, or to somewhere we’re happy to end up.