Management of Complexity

Some time ago I did some research about managing of complex systems. The results were published at the M.I.T. Europe Conference.

Neverthless, I am convinced that there is some important aspect missing in this research. The research concentrated to collect straight forward engineering methods, most of them are already known as state-of-the-art methods in software engineering.

We know that some people are better in managing complexity than others. I am convinced that you can observe these different skills in manageging complexity also if both would have exactly the same knowledge of the above mentioned straight forward engineering methods.

Some people have just these ingenious skills to handle complexity better than others.

The research question:

What are these “ingenious skills to handle complexity”? Why are some people better in manageing complexity than others – even if they have the same explicit knowledge? What kind of implicit or tacid knowledge do you need to be better?

Some ideas what could make a difference

  • not to be afraid of complex systems (never having enough information to decide on a complete analyses of the information), take it as it is instead of trying to divide it in non-complex systems (which is per definition impossible)
  • having the skill to sense behavior of the system (which other people do not see)
  • having the skill to connect new obervations with old experiences on a unconscious bases and to derive decisions – what I call an experience based gut feeling.

Sounds quite esoteric. Nevertheless, I am convinced that research in this field would deliver non-esoteric results. The interviews which I did were solely with engineers as the focus of my research was managing complexity in complex technical systems. Now I would include also managers (or better: leaders) as interview partners. A large organization is also a complex system and these interview would add some different point of view. 

Hints to existing research or own ideas or approaches are welcome!

Managing Complexity


About heisss
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2 Responses to Management of Complexity

  1. Christian Unfried says:

    I think the key may be in a combination of the following abilities/practices:
    – Mistrust processes. Think non-linear. Avoid getting stuck in trying to solve the problem straightforwardly. Take detours.
    – Map the unknown in a known manner. Remain consistent in your own structuring. Scribble, draft. Keep the scribblings and drafts for later. Remain consistent in your piling order.
    – Look for similarities and oddities. Mistrust the similarities until you can be sure they are similar. Love the oddities, since they enlarge your scope.
    – Find metaphors. If necessary, invent new metaphors. Work on your analysis until you are sure you could explain to your mom.
    – Iterate until you have a better feeling. Let the feeling evolve from the virtual picture in front of your inner eye. Move around in the virtual picture. Switch between senses. Play.
    – Don’t be afraid that your solution may not be eternal, neither universal. Even Galileo’s theory of classical mechanics was not fully correct, we know today. Still, at its time, it worked fine.

    And: Make sure the solution is sufficiently beautiful. Not perfect maybe, but beautiful in front of your eye. As some people say: suddenly, it seems to fit.

    To speed up the process, start with imagining a beautiful solution and then reverse the above order. Avoid rules which are made by linear people and for linear people. Nature’s beauty does not follow a cooking recipe, it follows the instinct.

    When you’re finished, don’t forget to clean your stack and get ready for a new adventure.

    • heisss says:

      thanks for your answer – I like it (and sorry for the delay of my answer – there was some misunderstanding with the moderation function of the tool)

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