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Quotes on Complexity
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  • 1. ComplexityNature does not make jumps. chaCarolus Linnaeus (1707-1778)PhilosophiaBotanica (1754) 77The things which enter into our consciousness are vast in number, and their relations – to the extent themind can grasp them – are extraordinarily complex. Minds with the inner power to grow will begin toestablish an order so that knowledge becomes easier; they will begin to satisfy themselves by findingcoherence and connection. milJohann W. Goethe (1749-1832)Quote (1781), A Study Based on Spinoza (1891)The most sublime metamorphosis in the inorganic realm occurs when the amorphous takes on structure asit comes into being. Every material has the inclination and the right to do this. milJohann W. Goethe (1749-1832)Maxims and Reflections (1819)We cannot know, but must act, just as we need little knowledge but much skill in a game. Nature hasgiven us the chess board; we cannot and should not work beyond its limits. She has carved our pieces;gradually we will learn their value, their moves , and their powers. Now it will be our task to find themoves we think best; each seeks this in his own way regardless of any advice. milJohann W. Goethe (1749-1832)Maxims and Reflections (1819)Observation discloses in the animal organism numerous phenomena existing side by side andinterconnected now profoundly, now indirectly, or accidentally. Confronted with a multitude of differentassumptions the mind must guess the real nature of this connection. encIvan P. Pavlov (1849-1936)Experimental psychology and other essays (1958) 10People are notoriously nonlinear. ramSimon Ramo (1913-)Cure for Chaos (1969) p97The natural world...is one of infinite varieties and complexities, a multidimensional world which containsno straight lines or completely regular shapes, where things do not happen in sequences, but all together;a world where – as modern physics tells us – even empty space is curved. capFritjof Capra (1939-)The Tao of Physics (1975) p15When confronted with complex systems, we are much like the blind men and the elephant, each seeingonly a small part of the whole. simAlbert J. Simard (1942-)Wildland Fire Management (1977) p1To study man‟s interface with his environment is to study complexities and conflict. When the interfacearises at a point of stress for both systems, our analytical skills must be all the greater. simAlbert J. Simard (1942-)
  • 2. Wildland Fire Management (1977) p9There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the universe is for and why it ishere, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarrely inexplicable. There isanother theory which states that this has already happened. wesDouglas Adams (1952-2001)The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Universe, Fit the Seventh (radio, 1978)No matter how complex it is, if you can look at it in the right way, it becomes even more complex. colMalcolm LesterIn: Books in Canada (Surguy, 1978)In relationship there is novelty, creativity, richer complexity. Whether we are talking about chemicalreactions or human societies, molecules or international treaties, there are qualities that cannot bepredicted by looking at the components. ferMarilyn FergusonThe Aquarian Conspiracy (1980) p156The more complex or coherent a structure, the greater the next level of complexity. Each new level iseven more integrated and connected than the one before, requiring a greater flow of energy formaintenance, and is therefore still less stable... Flexibility begets flexibility. ferMarilyn FergusonThe Aquarian Conspiracy (1980) p165With the idea of a doomed determinist world view now gone, we can feel free to make our fate for goodor ill. Classical science made us feel that we were helpless witnesses to Newton‟s clockwork world.Now, science allows us to feel home in nature. dosIlyaPrygogineIn: The World According to IlyaPrygogine (Lukas, 1980)Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nordoes lightning travel in a straight line. camBenoit Mandelbrot (1924-2010)The Fractal Geometry of Nature (1983) p1In the space of a few generations, the pre-Socratics collected, discussed, and criticized some of theconcepts we are still trying to organize in order to understand the relation between being and becoming,or the appearance of order out of a hypothetically undifferentiated initial environment. priIlya Prigogine (1917-2003)Order out of Chaos (1984) p38Once the conditions for self-organization are satisfied, life becomes as predictable as the Bénardinstability or a falling stone. priIlya Prigogine (1917-2003)Order out of Chaos (1984) p176The world has changed and therefore so must we. What must change is the quality and quantity of ourawareness of complexity and our skills and comfort level in working with it. lynDudley Lynch and Paul L. KordisStrategy of the Dolphin (1988) p13
  • 3. Low-leverage interventions would be much less alluring if it were not for the fact that many actuallywork, in the short term... In complex human systems there are always ways to make things look better inthe short run. Only eventually does the compensating feedback come back to haunt you.Peter M. Senge (1947-)The Fifth Discipline (1990) p60What most managers think of as scientific management is based on a conception of science that fewcurrent scientists would defend. While traditional science focuses on analyses, prediction and control, thenew science emphasizes chaos and complexity. ehrDavid FreemanIn: Harvard Business Review (Nov.-Dec. 1992)Complexity is ubiquitous. It is in nature as well as in artifice. It occurs in large and small systems. It canbe tangible or intangible. To be aware of the existence of complexity is like feeling a “presence” thatvirtually defies description. camAli Çambell (1923-)Applied Chaos Theory (1993) pxiWhenever we face our daily obligations with alacrity or muddle through the day, we cannot help but beaware of the complex nature of all that surrounds us and the uncertainties we face. camAli Çambell (1923-)Applied Chaos Theory (1993) p1How can one define in a few words a concept that appears in so many different ways? There iscomplexity in nature as a whole, in each of its species, in the myriad of devices and processes devised byman, and in the social institutions that are meant to be helpful. camAli Çambell (1923-)Applied chaos Theory (1993) p2Complex processes are the work of the devil. busMichael Hammer (1948-2008)In: Business Week (Aug. 1993)The idea that complex problems and situations can be readily “fixed” by the alliance of money andmachines is powerful and alluring. While there are occasions and situations where this is true, it iscertainly not a model to be universally adopted. mcgJames McGee and Lawrence PrusakManaging Information Strategically (1993) 5It takes a complex sensing system to register and regulate a complex object. davKarl E. WickSensemaking in Organizations (1995) p34If work expands to fill the available time, complexity expands to fill the available computer power. marJames Martin (1936-)CYBERCORP, The New Business Revolution (1996) p97When the very design of our works prevents interaction with them in any meaningful way, then it will beimpossible to set things right when the train of cybernetic society veers off the track. broDavid BrownCybertrends (1997) p226
  • 4. As our machines are increasingly jacked into global networks of information, it becomes more and moredifficult to imagine the dataspace at our fingertips, to picture all that complexity in our mind‟s eye - theway city dwellers... „cognitively map‟ their real-world environs. johSteven D. JohnsonInterface Culture (1997) p18Unless employees understand the complexities of the business environment, they can‟t invest theirintellectual capital wisely no matter how wiling they are to contribute it.Frances HoribeManaging Knowledge Workers (1999) 55We also need to become more complex if biological systems are to keep ahead of electronic ones...Computers speed and complexity double every 18 months, and this will probably continue untilcomputers have a similar complexity to the human brain. citStephen W. Hawking (1942-)In: Ottawa Citizen (Jan. 6, 2000) A.10Society‟s interaction with cyberspace is one of the most complex of complex systems. It will havepowerful emergent properties but it is too early yet to know what they are.marJames Martin (1933-)After the Internet: Alien Intelligence (2000) p39Well into this century, we will focus on utility over fads, triple our productivity, use our computers asnaturally and easily and with as much pleasure as we now use our cars and refrigerators, and hear thevoices of hundreds of millions more people – if we abandon our self-defeating path toward unbridled andgrowing machine complexity. derMichael L. DertouzosThe Unfinished Revolution (2001) p6Many complex systems exhibit properties that cannot be predicted by verbal reasoning, or even puremathematics, from the behavior of their components. Human society is no exception.Jared M. Diamond (1937-)Life with the Artificial Anasazi, in: Nature (Oct. 10, 2002) p567We often can‟t predict or manage the behavior of complex systems with much precision, because they areoften very sensitive to the smallest of changes and perturbations and their behavior can flip from onemode to another suddenly and dramatically. homThomas F. Homer-Dixon (1956-)The Ingenuity Gap (2001) p4The complexity and speed of operation of today‟s vital economic, social, and ecological systems exceedthe human brain‟s grasp. Very few of us have more than a rudimentary understanding of how thesesystems work. They are fraught with countless “unknown unknowns.” homThomas F. Homer-Dixon (1956-)The Ingenuity Gap (2001) p4The bedrock of the adaptive point of view is that the world is created from the bottom up, as agents of onekind or another organize themselves into increasingly complex and capable structures.Christopher Meyer (1944-) and Stanley Davis (1931-)It‟s Alive (2003) p35
  • 5. Self-organizing agents creating larger structures operate in economies as well as in biology.Semiconductors led to computers, then to modems, and then to the internet, not vice versa.Christopher Meyer (1944-) and Stanley Davis (1931-)It‟s Alive (2003) p36An airplane is complicated. When something is complicated it has many different parts and interactions.However, those parts and interactions can be known, understood, engineered, and managed. Whensomething is truly complex there are simply too many variables for it to ever be truly known, fullyunderstood, or managed.David SnowdenIn: The Future of Knowledge (Allee, 2003) p61We try to manage complexity by focusing on only one small area at a time, breaking things down intoseparate functions and processes. That might be useful for understanding something complicated, but itsimply doesn‟t work with things that are complex, such as organizations.Verna Allee (1949-)The Future of Knowledge (2003) p62Portfolio and process complexity is often a larger drag on profits and growth than any other single factorin the business. geoMichael L. George and Stephen A. WilsonConquering Complexity in Your Business (2004) p3The overall impact of complexity is to hinder management‟s ability to identify, collect, and respond toinformation that is strategically critical to the business. geoMichael L. George and Stephen A. WilsonConquering Complexity in Your Business (2004) p51Economic and social systems are essentially dynamic and not static... Most of the time one willexperience and observe behavior not in but out of equilibrium. ormPaul OrmerodWhy Most Things Fail (2005) p21It‟s the region between order and disorder that gives you complexity, not the order and disorder at theends. kluMurray Gell-Mann (1929-)In: Simplexity (Kluger, 2008) p29If ever there was a laboratory for the pinball interplay of physics, psychology, and overall complexity, it‟sin the chaotic scrum of daily traffic. kluJeffrey KlugerSimplexity (2008) p65Very small changes at the microscopic scale can lead to phase transitions at the macroscopic scale.Physicists work with this, but it also has a role in how ideas spread in society. kluSimon LevineIn: Simplexity (Kluger, 2008) p 90