Deeply interconnected systems behave in ways that surprise. Whether it be the economy, large organizations, energy policy or ecosystems, the interconnected nature of systems leads to emergent behaviour not obviously triggered by a single cause: These systems can trip across thresholds into sudden transitions and they can react disproportionately to seemingly small triggers, or change out of themselves endogenously.
Our education drives us to attempt to reduce these complex systems to their parts and look for each of their drivers, but we then discard the essence of their dynamic. Fortunately we increasingly have tools to deal with complexity as it is, without assuming it away. Looking at some – not all – issues through a complexity lens can lead to new solutions that were not apparent before.
Whether in policy, strategy or operations, the challenge is to harness complexity and make it work in practice.