Complicated vs Complex

Lance Ideas, Leadership, Simplicity Comments


  • a lot of moving parts
  • high number of places where errors can arise
  • understanding the mechanics is difficult but attainable
  • once mechanics are understood, predictability follows because the connections are linear


  • a lot of interrelated parts
  • high number of places where exponentially higher number of variations can arise
  • understanding the mechanics is difficult but attainable
  • despite understanding the mechanics, predictability remains impossible because the connections are non-linear


No matter how complicated a linear system like an array of dominoes may be, once the design is deconstructed and its rules for operation are understood, an observer can know what the end game will look like without ever pushing the first domino. Try pulling off that same trick with predicting how a meme, content, or idea spreads across a population of networked social media users.

The question leaders of organizations must ask themselves is this: is the problem or puzzle you are trying to solve merely complicated or truly complex? Proper data collection and analysis with the former leads to predictability, strategic planning, and problem solving. Real knowledge and understanding of the latter should lead to humility. Misidentify your challenge either way, and problems of one form or another will be the predictable result. There’s nothing complicated about that.