Introduction to Complexity Science
I facilitated the search by a network of hospital administrators, doctors and nurse leaders for new insights into how systems worked. This occurred in the 1990s at a time when the pace of change within health care was accelerating and healthcare organizations were struggling to cope. It seemed that many hospitals were betting the ranch on single strategies like merging, adopting the perfect electronic medical record, acquiring physician practices in the hope that such moves would ensure their survival. . Members of our network came to believe that the key to future success and viability might be found in the development of the capability to create and adapt. We looked for inspiration at the edges of many fields, including biology, neuroscience, economics, mathematics and physics and soon noticed that discoveries at the forefront of the fields were quite similar, even universal. This gave us some confidence we were encountering some important principles. This search took us to the Santa Fe Institute, a place where scholars from many disciplines were building the young science. The chance to interact with some complexity scientists like John Holland and Stuart Kauffman was inspiring and led some network members to intentionally follow some complexity principles in their hospital leadership work. The results were encouraging and led our hardy band to build relationships with several scholars working to bring complex systems perspectives to management and medicine.
Does Complexity Science influence your day to day experience?
To the best of my ability I attempt to draw upon a complex systems perspective when seeking to understand issues of all types working to facilitate improvement. This involves:
- Examining networks and thinking about who else needs to be involved to give us a fuller picture of an issue
- Looking for patterns of behaviors in interactions
- Being inclined to encourage experiments to probe systems, to see what can be learned by acting
- Engaging differences and staying open to what is emerging even if I am uncomfortable
- Remembering that even though I’m trying new things outcomes can’t be guaranteed- which is ok and actually kind of exciting
- Always attending to relationships
- Helping people realize that they know more about complexity than they realize
If you had to create a Complexity Science public service announcement, what would you say?
Complexity Science represents the most current attempt current attempt by scholars to understand the principles and dynamics of change and stability in systems of all types. For me these insights make me more hopeful about our ability to influence these systems in positive directions. Our new understandings open up new strategies for improvement.
What would you ask a group of Complexity Scientists if you had them around a table?
I would want to know what developments in their fields seems most promising to them. Who else is doing pioneering work?