Embracing Complexity


Have you ever thought about something deeply, been in the process of living it, knew it made sense but didn’t quite know how to express it? This was a feeling I had when working on a ‘learning framework’ for a complex and exciting programme at IUCN. Taking a course in Vancouver on complexity assured me that others were thinking along the same lines, i.e. We don’t know all the answers or even all the questions. In the face of uncertainty, let’s track what is happening, learn from the process and embrace the concept of emergence.

Recently, I was given the book Getting to Maybe. For those working on social change, this book puts theories of complexity into our realm. In the past, I had looked at examples from military operations, employee satisfaction and health care. These authors bring forth stories related to community development, environment and social justice. Examples are provided from poverty reduction, community health and rural entrepreneurship. They touch on tricky spots for dealing with complexity such as with donor relations and monitoring and evaluation. They also stress the importance of linking policy and practice to have sustainable long term change.

One of my favourite quotes in the book is, “The only lasting failure is the failure to learn – and failure to apply that learning going forward. “

I highly recommend this book if you want to better understand (and articulate) the difference between baking a cake (simple), sending a rocket to the moon (complicated) or raising a child (complex).

Thanks to my friend Gary Ockenden for the best birthday gift and thanks to my former boss Stewart Maginnis for recognizing complexity and championing the role for knowledge and learning in our work.



Filed under knowledge management, Uncategorized

3 responses to “Embracing Complexity

  1. You’re welcome Michelle. I’m really glad you enjoyed the book. If we could solve our big problems with linear plans and goals, we would be living in Nirvana already. To tackle complex issues, we need complex thinking and we need to work with intentions more than with measurable goals. That’s not easy, but it’s inspiring! And requires rigour to learn and adapt – hey, sounds like evolution!

  2. Michelle Laurie

    I am with you Gary! Thanks again – I am digging complexity 🙂

  3. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Unimaginable.

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