Message from Your Chapter President - July 2020

Have you ever thought about the difference between Complexity and Complication? As Theodore Kinni states, "If you're a leader and you treat a complex problem like a complicated problem, you are setting up yourself and your company for failure."

In the Cynefin framework, David Snowden describes 5 different decision making domains: clear, complicated, complex, chaotic, and disorder. Each domain requires a unique approach to decision making and problem solving. Understanding the differences is vital to success.

So, what is the difference between complicated and complex? Complicated contexts are systematic, predictable and can be reduced to the sum of their component parts. Burgess and Burgess point out, "The laws governing the system... are stable, and they are applied the same way every time." Once a solution is found for a complicated problem; the solution is repeatable, reusable and can be considered good practice. The approach to complicated systems involves analyzing the facts, breaking it down to its parts, considering various good practices, consulting experts, developing an approach and acting.

Complex problems, on the other hand, are far more than the sum of their parts. In fact, the complexity IS the interaction, and the interaction is never the same from one instance to the next. Kinni explains when addressing complex situations, "Maybe you'll get lucky and figure it out once, but whatever you did this time won't generate the same result next time." Imagine the complexity of merging two companies. The interaction of people, technologies, business practice, history and assumptions will be different every time. Complexity requires a view of the entire system. The lines between complex systems are not clear. The key is to respond to the effect and manage the outcome, not solve the problem.

When advising leaders, help them understand whether their decision is complex or simply complicated. Then take appropriate steps to address the need accordingly and reach for success.

Mike Jones, CBAP

Theodore Kinni:
Cynefin Framework:
Heidi and Guy M. Burgess:
David J. Snowden and Mary E. Boone:
Rick Nason:  It’s Not Complicated: The Art and Science of Complexity in Business (Rotman-UTP Publishing, 2017) 
Andy Cleff:
Sonja Blignaut: