LeverPoint


Complexity

2008_1115ah-img-corrctn_1-thumbnailCause and effect-based problems refer to change over time. How about change that occurs outside of cause and effect? Complexity exists when cause and effect are not linear, but are separated in time and space. In these systems it is not always possible to define clear cause and effect, because you can not say which element comes first or where the effect ends.

The modern types of problems we face are layered in complexity. Where complexity science comes into play, is that we can start to see that system behavior can change instantly if certain elements within that system exceed a threshold or level of activity. We are talking about phase transitions, like water changing its state to ice or vapor as temperature changes.

Another key idea from complexity science is autocatalysis. Autocatalytic systems occur when combinations of elements form catalysts for reactions that generate new catalysts. This chain can continue, with later reactions creating the original elements that complete the loop and start the catalytic process again. It is a type of feedback loop that provides “order for free”. Past a certain threshold of complexity, it can form a type of metabolism where a chaotic soup of elements becomes recognizable as a single system that takes in “food” and expresses behavior. Network theory also explains these catalytic connections as a phase transition within a network.

Applying these concepts to business management, performance management, relationships, the economy, etc, can open up many possibilities for developing knowledge. So complexity science is a strong part of seeing and understanding systems.

Complex Systems Glossaries:

http://www.cna.org/isaac/Glossb.htm

http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/FLAOH/cbnhtml/glossary-A.html


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