Managing Complexity Through Systems Thinking

The world is a thing of utter inordinate complexity and richness and strangeness that is absolutely awesome.
Douglas Adams.

There's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in.
Leonard Cohen.

Most issues that face us as a society are complex. We have to admit the complexity and trust people to accept complexity. 
Tanya Plibersek.

For the simplicity on this side of complexity, I wouldn't give you a fig. But for the simplicity on the other side of complexity, for that I would give you anything I have. 
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.
Albert Einstein.

Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!
Dr. Seuss. 

One would enquire in vain for the masters who brought this system to its flowering or those who later opened up new ways for its development. This art is totally anonymous and it would contradict the artist’s noblest charge, which was the liberation of the spirit from the transitoriness of worldly ties. 
Ernst Kuhnel, The Arabesque

Life is complex, and it would be boring if it wasn't! Failing to recognize this can fool us into taking actions that prove to be ineffective, or worse. 

Adopting overly simplistic "solutions" that are not supported by credible evidence is a particular problem in public policy and business strategy.  This simplicity "on this side of complexity" is the most frequent maladaptive response to complexity.

Systems frameworks and critical thinking are essential to living with complexity. And, relevant techniques can be learned. Systems thinking is a natural cognitive process for making sense of complexity with examples going back to antiquity. In one case, 
Australian Aboriginal rock art, more than 30,000 years old, shows evidence of early inhabitants classifying local fauna, particularly relating to food sources. In current times, we recognize that human organisations are "complex" in the sense that we cannot precisely predict outcomes when change occurs. Despite our best efforts, interventions such as quality management generally fail to achieve desired outcomes and unintended consequences occur often.  

We can improve our understanding of organisational behaviour by viewing organisations using various systemic frameworks and thinking critically, "Oh, the thinks you can think ...". For example, we might attempt to explain organisational behaviour using an organisational chart that defines a hierarchy of accountabilities where similar functions are grouped together. Or, we might view the organisation from a financial modelling perspective in which we identify the "mechanical drivers" of financial performance. A third alternative is to view the organisation as an evolving "organic" network of relationships, while a fourth is to interpret the organisation as a learning, adaptive entity that co-evolves with its environment. Critical thinking exposes the strengths and weaknesses of each approach and provides a basis for learning.

Each perspective structures data about the organisation and provides an information base for decision-making. These will be decisions based on "simplicity on the other side of complexity", where their transparency allows critical evaluations to be made. Better still, we can use the insights gained by comparing the different approaches to learn even more about the organisation. 

Despite all this, there will still be aspects that we can't explain- the "crack" that entices us to try even harder by searching for an improved "level of consciousness". For the curious, how "awesome" is that?

It should be noted that it is common for us to refer to "complex systems". In this case the "system" is the object of our attention. For example, the "health system is too expensive". But this use begs the question as to how we might describe the "health system". When we attempt to answer this question, we are back at the starting point of what we mean by "systems thinking".