Complex Thinking - A proposal for practice

The Proposal

"The complexity of our modes of thinking may be grounded in properties similar to those attributed to more complex systems."

We propose that it is possible to organise our modes of thinking in such a way that the resulting coherence fosters the emergence of relevant information about a target system of interest (Checkland 1999; Caves and Melo 2018), ourselves and our relationship with it, so as to improve and expand our possibilities for acting in positive ways in relation to it and to better manage the change processes implicated in this relationship.

We expect that more complex modes of thinking are more likely to lead to the emergence of novel and pragmatically meaningful information about a given target system that informs actions supporting a positive co-evolving relationship and eco-systemic fitness between the observer, the system of interest and their environment.

What is Complex Thinking?

In this proposal, Complex Thinking is defined both as:

A mode (or process) of coupling

Complex thinking as a process that is sustained by a set of practices that simultaneously:

(i) attend to (describing, explaining, predicting) and adjust to the complexity of (a selected part of) the world (the system of interest) and the properties that sustain its complexity (as recognised by given communities of observers at a given point in time); and

(ii) enact such properties as contributions to the coupling relationship;

An outcome of coupling

Complex thinking generates:

(i) a multiplicity of descriptions, explanations and antecipations as well as a framework for their integration;

(ii) meaningful emergent novel information, translated as differences that makes a difference (Bateson 1979) in the observer, the target system and/or their coupling relationship towards increased coherence and complexity;

(iii) a variety of possibilities of action for promoting, supporting or managing change in both the observer, the world, and their subsequent coupling relation, guiding choices that build

(iv) constructive interactions and positive co-evolving relationships capable of sustaining positive outcomes for the observer, the target system and their environments, as agreed by a set of critical observers (entities either involved and/or more or less directly affected by the outcomes).

The practice of Complex Thinking

We propose Complex Thinking can be enacted through the practice of a set of properties of the thinking. A list of organising dimensions and properties is presented in Melo, 2020 that may guide practice and the development of new tools and resources as well as new research focused on exploring the potential of these properties and the processes of managing them in supporting CT, namely second order or emergent complex thinking.