Complexity Thinking? Or Systems Thinking++?

By Jurgen Appelo

People have been using the term Systems Thinking for a few decades. But nowadays we sometimes hear the term Complexity Thinking. Some claim that comparing complexity thinking to systems thinking is like comparing Einsteinian physics to Newtonian physics. Others claim that complexity thinking is nothing more than systems thinking in a fashionable jacket.

In this session we discuss using models (metaphors, analogies, mathematics, patterns) to try and make sense of the world. We have a look at complexity theory and we will see that it doesn't go well with the traditional scientific method. In social systems, such as software projects, the standard approaches of reductionism, prediction and control don't work very well. Even systems thinkers make the mistake of trying to apply the traditional scientific method to social systems.

It is better to use complexity thinking, which is all about complex systems, complexity absorption, diversity, narratives, context, reflexivity, exploration, uncertainty and interaction.

And what does this all have to do with Lean and Agile software development? Do theoretical debates on terminology really help us to better manage our business? The answer is yes. Because "There is nothing as practical as good theory" (Kurt Lewin) and "Without theory there is no learning." (John Seddon).