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Embrace complexity to find simplicity

If you really want to understand networks, complexity is the place to go. Once you understand a little, you see complex adaptive systems everywhere, from traffic to the weather, and especially – if you are in my line of work – when you look at human social networks.

So, people who really understand how complexity works, as it were, are really worth listening to. Eric Beinhocker, who applied complexity theory to economics in his book The Origin of Wealth, gave me my first taste of it and I have been hooked ever since.

Ecologists are, naturally, enough steeped in complexity theory, as their field is all about the intricate relationships between environments and the many organisms that inhabit them.

So this TED talk, by ecologist Eric Berlow, is a three-minute eye opener about one simple lesson he has learned. You have to be able to see the complexity around any given issue in order to   

In his words we have to “embrace complexity” rather than trying to oversimplify problems we are examining. Look hard enough at a complex system and the simple patterns and answers will begin to emerge.

If you see a complex system, be excited rather than afraid, says Berlow. It means that you will be able to find a better answer quicker.

Embrace complexity is a phrase i’ve used myself before, beginning with the Brands in Networks e-book I wrote at iCrossing in 2008. It’s a hard thing for brands and organisations to accept, but refusing to oversimplify the challenges they face, particularly in online networks, can be a virtue rather than a cause of confusion.

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By Antony Mayfield

I'm Antony Mayfield - to find out more about me take a look at my LinkedIn profile (see the button on the home page). You can contact me by email at antony [dot] mayfield [at] gmail [dot] com.

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