Visualizing complexity

October 9, 2010

Although one can get often trapped by complex tools (thinking that they are ‘holistic’), there are two kinds of ‘tools’ are considered to be helpful for coping with complexity: language and visualization.

Through language (narrative and metaphor) hidden issues and intangible aspects in a social or organizational context can be revealed. Yet, at the same time, language itself is a boundary object, a communication barrier, between people who speak different languages or between others who follow a specific vocabulary.

On the other hand, visualizing patterns (of perception, relation or behavior) is very helpful for understanding intractable problems and accepting complexity in a business or political context (on a managerial level). Typical examples are:

a) Systems thinking diagrams that try to imprint what Kahane calls “dynamic complexity”; this is when causes and effects are far apart in space and time, and therefore less publicly visible.

b) SenseMaker patterns that try to imprint different assumptions or interests of people who are commonly affected

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


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