Lots of things are ‘complex’ nowadays. But what does that really mean and how can we deal with it? If simple solutions keep failing (even if they sound tempting) you might be dealing with a more complex problem.

Calculating the orbit of a planet is complicated but – provided you have the knowledge and a good computer – can be achieved for thousands of years in advance, making it non-complex. The way a team, an organization or a group of customers behaves in the face of changing environmental influences is complex. It cannot really be predicted, is different today than it will be tomorrow and will include unexpected dynamics.

The Cynefin model helps in dealing with different situations. It divides situations into simple ones (immediate relationship between cause and effect), complicated ones (expert knowledge is required to understand the relationship, but it is predictable), complex ones (cannot be fully described, cause and effect can only be identified in retrospect, cannot be predicted) and chaotic ones (no cause-effect relationship, no clear patterns – e.g. catastrophes). It furthermore suggests the following steps of dealing with these situations:

Source: www.wandelweb.de


  1. Abandon the illusion of being able to plan everything. In complex situations, it is more helpful to set smaller interventions (probe), to evaluate, to learn from the findings and then to implement the next intervention.
  2. Look at your system from the outside. The overall picture is often difficult to grasp when you are part of the picture. Use the perspective of external parties to identify patterns and see the big picture.
  3. Follow the example of Beppo Roadsweeper out of Michael Ende’s novel Momo: one step, one breath, one sweep. What looked like a frighteningly long road is easy to master if you take one step at a time.