Although an absolute definition of complexity remains elusive, the term is generally used to characterize a phenomenon that emerges from a collection of objects that interact with each other in various ways – a system. A key aspect of complexity is that the emergent behavior arises as a result of the collective nature of the whole system and without direction from a central authority.
A classic example is a flock of birds. The collection of birds move as one body, but no single bird is directing the flight behavior. Furthermore, people, cells, robots, and numerous other ‘things’ can work collectively to create amazing emergent behaviors. Economies, social networks, cancer, contagion spreading – all are complex systems that impact our financial stability, daily interactions, and general health. Complexity underlies some of society’s most pressing issues, and an approach that embraces the non-equilibrium and highly connected nature of a system can lead to solutions that would be otherwise inaccessible.
Baskin, Ken, Goldstein, Jeffrey, and Lindberg, Curt, “Growing a Stroke Center Chunk by Chunk,” a story from St. Luke’s Hospital, Kansas City, MO
Camazine, Scott, “Patterns in Nature,” Natural History, June 2003, p. 34-41. (pdf)
The natural world abounds in eye-catching patterns. Consider the synchronized movements of a school of fish gliding through deep ocean waters; or the coordinated turns and swoops of a flock of starlings whirling among tall trees before coming to rest on a telephone wire. How do all the individuals in the school or the flock avoid collisions with their neighbors? How do they orchestrate their graceful movements? The living world is filled with striped and mottled patterns of contrasting colors; with sculptural equivalents of those patterns realized as surface crests and troughs; with patterns of organization and behavior even among individual organisms. People have long been tempted to find some obscure “intelligence” behind all these biological patterns.
Goldberger, Ary, “Complex Systems,” Giles F. Filley Lecture
Goldstein, Jeffrey, Resource Guide and Glossary for Nonlinear/Complex Systems Terms (pdf)
Lindberg, Curt, et al, Embracing collaboration: A novel strategy for reducing bloodstream infections in outpatient hemodialysis centers (link)
Published online: 10 December 2012 DOI: 10.1016/j.ajic.2012.07.015 American Journal of Infection Control
Lindberg, Curt, and Schneider, Marguerite, “Leadership in a Complex Adaptive System, Insights from Positive Deviance,” Selected as a Best Paper 2012 Academy of Management
Citation: Academy of Management Best Paper Proceedings, 2012.
Scott, John G., et al, “Understanding Healing Relationships in Family Care” Annals of Family Medicine, Vol. 6 No. 4, July/August 2008 pp 315-322 (pdf)
Healing relationships between doctors and patients have certain underlying structures that may also be common to healing relationship in general, a recent study suggests. Researchers found certain processes followed by doctors foster healing relationships with patients. They are creation of a nonjudgmental emotional bond, management of the clinician power to benefit the patient, and a commitment to caring for the patient over time. For patients the positive outcomes of these processes are hope, trust and a sense of being known. These outcomes also benefit the physicians.
|Christakis, Nicholas, and Fowler, James, Connected: The Surprising Power of our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, Little, Brown and Co., New York, 2009|
|Johnson, Steven, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Riverhead Books, a Division of Penguin Group Inc., New York, 2010|
|Strogatz, Steven, Sync: The Universe, Nature and Daily Life, Hyperion, New York, 2003|
|Waldrop, Mitchell, Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos Simon & Schuster, New York 1993|
|Zolli, Andrew, and Healy, Anne Marie, Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, Free Press, New York, 2012|
Boids website from Craig Reynolds includes animations and descriptions on the modelling of complex swarm behavior based on simple rule sets. The boids model has become an oft-cited example of principles of Artificial Life. Flocking is a particularly evocative example of emergence: where complex global behavior can arise from the interaction of simple local rules. In the boids model (and related systems like the multi-agent steering behavior demos) interaction between simple behaviors of individuals produce complex yet organized group behavior.
The Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences at Florida Atlantic University was founded in August, 1985 by Dr. Scott Kelso when he assumed the University’s Eminent Scholar Chair in Science. The overarching objective of the Center is to understand the principles and mechanisms underlying complex behavior on all levels, from molecules and cells to whole brain functioning and even brains (people) working together.
The Center for Self-Organizing Leadership is a network of individual consultants and practitioners, who adhere to Self-Organizing Leadership Principles in guiding Organizations, Communities and Individuals to achieve extraordinary and sustainable results. Formed in November 2001 by Richard N. and Claire E. F. Knowles.
The Center for the Study of Complex Systems (CSCS) is a multi- and interdisciplinary program at the University of Michigan designed to encourage and facilitate research and education in the general area of nonlinear, dynamical and adaptive systems.
Complexity and Management Complexity and Management is a well developed research area at the Business School of the University of Hertfordshire. Since the beginning of this work in 1992, complexity and management researchers have sought to create links between academic work and organisational practice using a complexity perspective in which the inevitable paradoxes and ambiguities of organisational life are not finally resolved but held in creative tension. This perspective draws on analogies from the natural complexity sciences, interpreted in the sphere of human action in terms of American pragmatism, European process sociology and group psychology, to develop new ways of understanding organisations and their management which emphasise self-organisation and emergence in processes of ordinary conversation and everyday politics.
Complexity & Management Centre Blog – Understanding the complex responsive processes of human organizing. We (Doug Griffin, Chris Mowles, Karen Norman, Nick Sarra, and Ralph Stacey) work together as the staff group supervising the reflexive research of leaders, managers and consultants into their own work in organizations on the Doctor of Management program at the Business School of the University of Hertfordshire. We also work in various combinations in other organizations. On this site we hope to explore day to day interactions between people in the work place as a way of enquiring into management practice. Theposts will take a particular interest in power, recognition and communicative interaction and will set out a critical view of contemporary management theory.
Emergence: Complexity & Organization (E:CO) is an international and interdisciplinary conversation about human organizations as complex systems and the implications of complexity science for those organizations.
Emergent Universe is an interactive online learning experience where you can learn about emergent phenomena and how such phenomena impact your world.
The Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence (I.S.C.E.) facilitates the conversation between academics and practitioners regarding the implications of complexity thinking for the management of organizations.
The Liberating Structures website from Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz is designed to provide practical information for using Liberating Structures. They include detailed descriptions of all 33 Liberating Structures and information on tips and traps, examples and collateral material plus a dozen field stories from business, healthcare, NGO and government leaders putting LS into practice.
The Margaret & H.A. Rey Institute for Nonlinear Dynamics in Medicine (ReyLab), is an interdisciplinary research laboratory at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. The laboratory is affiliated with Harvard Medical School and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences & Technology. Its mission is to provide new understanding of the dynamical aspects of health and disease via multidisciplinary approaches. In particular, our aim is to create an interdisciplinary laboratory without walls. It is led by Plexus Advisor Ary Goldberger, M.D., a cardiologist at Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center and Havard Medical School, who has devoted his career to seeking to new understandings of the nonlinear mechanisms and patterns of health and disease.
Microbes.info is a microbiology information portal containing a vast collection of resources including articles, news, frequently asked questions, and links pertaining to the field of microbiology.
The Minnesota Social Innovation Labis an outgrowth of InCommons.org, an initiative started by several Minnesota based foundations and organizations to connect people in person and online so they can find and share the knowledge, tools and resources to solve local problems.
The New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI) is an independent academic research and educational institution with students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty. In addition to the in-house research team, NECSI has co-faculty, students and affiliates from MIT, Harvard, Brandeis and other universities nationally and internationally. NECSI has been instrumental in the development of complex systems science and its applications. We study how interactions within a system lead to its behavioral patterns, and how the system interacts with its environment.
The Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems (NICO) is a university-wide institute. It is made of distinguished and diverse group of faculty from all areas of the university, including engineering, swarm robotics, business, natural sciences, education, medicine, law, and the social sciences. NICO seeks to develop new connectionsbetween existing research and to create new knowledge at the boundaries of existing disciplines.
Physionet is a public service of the Research Resource for Complex Physiologic Signals, funded by the National Center for Research Resources of the National Institutes of Health. It offers free access via the web to large collections of recorded physiologic signals and related open-source software.
The Positive Deviance Initiative (PDI) was formed in 2001 under the direction of Jerry Sternin. Located at Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy, the PDI is supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation. The objectives of the PDI are to document and share information on current global positive deviance (PD) projects, to explore new PD applications, and to expand the cadre PD practitioners and trainers.
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Daily News Digest is a frequently updated news digest on the subject of health policy. The digest highlights key articles from major journals and news publications.
The Santa Fe Institute is a transdisciplinary research community that expands the boundaries of scientific understanding.Its aim is to discover, comprehend, and communicate the common fundamental principles in complex physical, computational, biological, and social systems that underlie many of the most profound problems facing science and society today.
The Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology & Life Sciences is an international forum that brings together researchers, theoreticians, and practitioners interested in applying dynamical systems theory, self- organization, neural nets, fractals, cellular automata, agent-based modeling, and related forms of chaos, catastrophes, bifurcations, nonlinear dynamics, and complexity theories to psychology and the life sciences. Our members hail from numerous specialties within psychology, other social sciences, and biology, physiology, neuroscience, mathematics, philosophy, physics, computer science, economics, education, management, political science, engineering, and the world of art.
The Society for Complexity in Acute Illness (SCAI). Inflammation and organ dysfunction that accompany trauma and sepsis are complex, multi-focal problems. Though exciting laboratory breakthroughs derived from reductionist approaches await translation to the clinic, few therapeutic options are available today. New paradigms are needed to truly impact care for acute illness.We formed SCAI because we believe passionately that complex systems approaches, involving modeling, simulation, systems biology, chaos theory, and network theory can augment the classical, hypothesis-driven approach that has largely failed to stem the tide of critical illness.We are clinicians, bench scientists, and modelers. We work in hospitals, research institutions, and companies.
Suffolk University Center for Business Complexity & Global Leadership was born out of a commitment to develop a new framework for understanding business systems by bringing together scholars and practitioners to advance dialogue and research to support today’s leaders and develop leaders of tomorrow.
Friends and Associates Blogs
Leading with Nature, a blog from Plexus Associate Kristen Barney. Kristen works with leaders to support the evolution of their leadership and their organizations. Working primarily in the nonprofit sector, she partners with leaders and organizations to amplify their positive performance.
Meta-Reflections Daniel Pesut on creating community and inviting action through reflection and sharing of personal, intellectual, and public resources.
Innovating in a Hyperconnected Society Michael Arena is an Assistant Professor in the McColl School of Business at Queens University of Charlotte. His interest in the area of innovation and connectivity has led to the development of a program called ‘Hyper-connected Innovation.” This program is dedicated to establishing new methods of generating value by creating an environment of open idea generation, entrepreneurship and innovation.
Quo Vadis “Not all who wander are lost” Plexus Associate Marsha Hughes-Rease is a leadership coach and organization effectiveness consultant and blogs on leadership and change.
SabuSense Plexus Associate Lewis Rhodes created Sabusense to help people trying to “connect the dots” within a different “big picture” in order to make sense of what they think they see happening in schools every day. (It works for other organizations, too.) It draws upon the logic of “Sabu,” the Elephant Boy, who had no choice but to deal with “whole elephants,” as he helped the “Blindered” (not Blind) Men around the Elephant take advantage of the connectedness of the “individual parts” for which they usually were held solely accountable. This way-of-thinking then provides the platform for learning from the 12-year journey of a major (140,000 student) US school district that has been transforming how people think about, and judge, the work of teaching and learning we call schooling.
The Squiggle Sense David Engstrom and Plexus Advisor J.A. Scott Kelso write The Squiggle Sense, a blog magazine and online study resource dedicated to the awakening of a human sixth sense of the complementary nature, and what it indicates about the human being ~ being human.
The Talk to Walk to Plexus Advisor Arvind Singhal writes Which Way is North, a dialogic blog – an ongoing recursive conversation with oneself and others. Its purpose is to narrate stories, to invite reflection, to challenge the status quo, and to provoke action.
Teleos Leadership Institute Plexus Associate Kristin von Donop is a Senior Consultant at Teleos Leadership Institute. From October 2011 she writes about sustaining relationships in A View from the Inside: How Teleos Makes Great Bread.