Introduction to Complexity Principles for a Large Group.

To download a printer friendly version of this page click here Introduction to Complexity Principles for large group

  • Many different ways of defining complexity, and complex adaptive systems. I have chosen 4 principles to work with as a starting point. You may have chosen different ones, of course…
      • Minimal specifications
      • Work with attractors
      • Value diversity as a source of creativity and sustainability
      • View a system through its interactions rather individual elements


  • As a way of experiencing some of these principles, I would like to offer you an exercise.


  • Distribute letters. They all have blu-tak on the back. How many words can you make?


Minimal specs here: use letters to make words


  • What types of words have been made? What patterns can we see?


Attractors here could be:


  • English Language
  • Number of letters in words
  • Patterns of letters
  • Anything else?


  • What made it easier to make words?


Diversity as a source of creativity?



  • Let me give you some more specifications:


        • There are 21 letters altogether. Form all the letters into a single 3-word phrase
        • 1st letter of first word is ‘C’
        • Last letter of last word is ‘M’
        • The pair of ‘A’s is split by a single letter
        • The pair of ‘S’s is split by a single letter
        • 1st letter of the middle word in ‘A’



View the interactions rather than the elements


  • Consider the difference between the static, seemingly random collection of letters at the beginning, and the dynamic process which led to the final emergent meaning.


  • This is different to the traditional linear approach to viewing a system – which is to reduce it to its components in order to understand it, like a machine. But in complexity, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and using a linear, machine-based model doesn’t work. I have a film clip to illustrate this valuing of holism and intuition over linear thinking.


The limitations of reductionism


Making assumptions of linearity is the commonest way we humans attempt to understand and control the non-linear situations we find ourselves in. This has been very successful in producing the technological world around us – but is proving unsuccessful in many ways too (health care, economics, weather, relationships)

The 21 letters are


MW 11.7.07