exploring complexity


exploring is...

  • applying the new science of complexity to a £2.5 billion company and seeing it work successfully
  • working in partnership with others
  • the view from the summit
  • following dreams
  • watching the sunset over the Himalayas
  • making the first ascent of unclimbed mountains
  • sharing a cup of tea after a rewarding team-building day
  • starting a development project with the villagers of a Sherpa village
  • sharing renewed hope with a community that has learnt to build bridges, footpaths, a school and a monastery
  • standing alongside my brother on an undiscovered glacier surrounded by unclimbed peaks
  • seeing a mountain we had named printed on the map

the theory of complexity


This 'theory of complexity' is science's most recent attempt to describe and understand systems that grow, adapt and evolve. These are what scientists classify as non-linear systems.

A complexity framework describes natural living systems. It's fundamentally different from the rather traditional ways of organising business, which are influenced by metaphors of the clock and the machine.

organisation as a machine

By definition the 'machine' view of the world classifies the parts as inanimate 'things' rather than as ever changing processes. (Referring to a person as a 'cog' in the 'machine' for instance). This traditional linear view sees the world made up of parts that could be assembled like a machine. It stresses quantitative measurement, predictability and control.

Scientists have come to understand that this view is only appropriate for a small percentage of systems that we observe.

Living things work in a very different way to machines.

"He who does his work like a machine grows a heart like a machine"
Chuang-tzu C4 BC

the living organisation

Understanding how complex networks of living systems organise themselves and interact with one another would give insight into the majority of systems that we observe. These systems are too complex to predict or control but they can be influenced.

a framework for an unpredictable world

Complexity provides a framework for dealing with uncertainty and unpredictability. Just remind yourself of the continual mergers and takeovers of companies, the boom and bust of stock markets, fluctuating economic cycles and the unpredictable world of markets.

This framework looks to be crucial for business in the 21st Century where dealing with global interlinked markets, customer importance, scenario planning, innovation and the ability to be different, are all of increasing importance. Robin has explored these ideas with major businesses in the UK, Holland, Ireland and South Africa.

complex network