Refreshing read on regularities in complex systems

I just came across this blog post by Cynthia Kurtz, who wrote with Dave Snowden the paper “The new dynamics of Strategy: Sense-making in a complex and complicated world“. Cynthia describes in her post how she perceives regularities in complex systems, so called oscillations.

I like the post because it uses a really refreshingly simple and jargon-less language to talk about this characteristic of complex systems. Compared with other texts on complex systems, it’s fun reading and seeing oscillation and, connected to it, unpredictability in complex systems with different eyes.

Here an example:

Those leaves remind me of a conversation I had once with a person with whom I was discussing the differences between complicated and complex patterns. He said something like, “You say a complicated pattern repeats and a complex one doesn’t, right? But how do you explain the fact that complex patterns sometimes do repeat?” I said, “They repeat until they don’t.” What I meant was, when a leaf is oscillating, it looks like it’s connected to some perfectly engineered device governed by a mechanical timer. But that’s an illusion that bursts when the leaf suddenly stops. Complicated patterns repeat because somebody or something made them repeat. They stop repeating when somebody or something stops them repeating, or when they break down and need to be fixed (after which they repeat again, if somebody or something makes them). Complex patterns repeat because they started repeating, and they stop repeating because they’ve stopped repeating. Keep in mind, of course, that the patterns we see in our world are rarely purely complex or complicated. Even those oscillating leaves I see out of my window have been influenced by the complicated design of the house that separates us.

1 thought on “Refreshing read on regularities in complex systems

  1. cheulrico

    Dear Marcus,

    as we discussed recently, it is still a challenge to explain the concept of complex systems in a easy understandable way.

    A great example is still the “butterfly effect” to explain chaos theory. The name of the effect, coined by the meteorologist Edward Lorenz, is derived from the theoretical example of a hurricane’s formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks before. Using this example also normal people can understand nonlinear system, where a small change at one place can result in large differences to a later state.
    Cynthia Kurtz’s example to use oscillating leaves explain the difference between complex and complicated is in the same line.

    Your blog and the new platform of are great places to help to understand this new topic and make is also useful for development practice.

    Thanks for this!


Leave a Reply