Embracing complexity: Insights for resilience in 2023 and beyond

By Complexability

November 7, 2023

Source: Supplied

In September 2023, Complexability, in collaboration with The Cynefin Co and The Griffith Centre for Systems Innovation, and 100 others engaged in a series of events over a week to explore contemporary social and organisational challenges and issues through the lens of complexity.

The Essence of Complex Systems

Fundamental to deliberations was the work of Prof Dave Snowden, Chief Scientific Officer, The Cynefin Co. In complex human systems, understanding emergence and embracing uncertainty is critical, with resilient organisations being those with the capability to embrace the unexpected.

Starting journeys with a sense of direction, and not having all the answers has implications for policy and practice.

For example:

  1. Complexity and risk: entanglement and the inability to ever know everything means small changes and interventions always have unintended consequences. Risk is early detection and excellence in recovery, requiring real time scanning, feedback and learning systems.
  2. Context is critical: standard solutions and approaches, copying others and best practice do not work; options continually emerge through the life of any project or program.
  3. Leadership qualities are not causal, they are emergent and result from entangled, interconnected interactions and relationships.

What about the ‘boring bits’?

Prof Ingrid Burkett, Director of the Griffith Centre for Systems Innovation, highlighted that success of addressing long standing social challenges through service-delivery and place-based programs hinges on paying attention to finer details and local nuances. She advocates a shift in focus from the promise of shiny solutions to the less glamorous but crucial ‘boring bits’.

These bits include contracts, procurement, performance agreements and program design, that are currently not fit for purpose in complex systems.

Leadership and Ethics in a Complex World

Dr Jacqueline Boaks, a Lecturer at Curtin University in Ethics and Leadership challenged the Western obsession of putting methodology before questions. She emphasised the need to shift our focus to curiosity, collective wisdom, and evidence, rather than rigid adherence to predefined processes. In a complex world, flexibility and adaptability are key to ethical leadership.

Complex Partnerships and Collective Responsibility

Tio Taiaki, a Maori Leader from New Zealand, shared insights into complex partnerships and leadership; specifically equity of language and intent is crucial, the dynamics of resource allocation being adaptive and mechanisms manage the disconnect when systems clash. Inclusive decision-making processes and a shared responsibility for leadership become cornerstones.

Rethinking Budgeting and Management

Bjarte Bogsnes, Chairman of Beyond Budgeting, challenged the conventional wisdom that the future is predictable and that people can’t be trusted. Innovation in management practice should be as important as any other component; moving away from command-and-control structures, and exploring alternative ways to unlock the untapped performance potential of organisations.

Partnering in Complexity

Marcia Dwonzcyk, Director of Creativma, is an International Practitioner, Partnership Brokers Association. One-size-fits-all approaches have proved unsustainable for partnering in complexity. Building community capability and ensuring the sustainability of partnerships means recognising the unique nature of different partnerships and tailoring strategies accordingly.

What Lies Ahead

Complexity is not a choice – it just is!  Given the above, key activities for 2024:

Rethinking Procurement and Commissioning: Partnering with Griffith Centre for Systems Innovation,  developing new frameworks for the “boring bits” of procurement and commissioning.

Complex Facilitation Resources for Community Activators: In partnership with Griffith Centre for Systems Innovation developing resources for community activators to work with their own communities.

Complex Partnerships: Collaborations with Creativma, Riteways Wanju, and Tio Taiaki will continue to focus on equity-based partnerships.

Narrative Research with SenseMaker®: In collaboration with The Cynefin Co, a narrative research project, exploring leadership and ethics.

Beyond Budgeting Principles: Collaboration with Bjarte Bogsnes, Chairman of Beyond Budgeting, for the development of new approaches to Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning, utilising Beyond Budgeting principles.

Take the first step today – join over 1000 global colleagues in our Community of Practice to explore, engage and become a catalyst in our complex, interconnected world.

For more information contact Julie Cunningham or Viv Read at

About the author
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments