Basics of Complex Adaptive Systems Thinking

Article 2 min
Define the basic tenets of complex adaptive systems thinking (CAST).

Complex adaptive systems thinking (CAST) is a different approach to analysis that takes into account the features and elements of a system, how they work together and how they influence each other. It fosters development of dynamic leaders and dynamic solutions in all environments, as the leader must account for each piece of the system and visualize how a solution will impact the rest of the system.

A system can be a community, an ecosystem, a city, or even a network like a political party, a terrorist group or geopolitical organization. This thinking process breaks any system down into four components:

  • Multiple Perspectives: personal beliefs, world views, voices, knowledge and culture that exist in a system
  • Influences: barriers, leverage points, drivers, attitudes and stakeholders within a system
  • Interconnections: relationships, patterns of behavior and networks within a system
  • Boundaries: communities, systems within systems, issues and scope of the mission that limit a system

As the world becomes increasingly connected, it is vital to take each of these variables into account. Recognizing how these four components relate to and rely on each other brings awareness to the interconnectedness of all actions and how influencing one component could have potential consequences to another.

Once a user has researched and analyzed an issue, problem or opportunity by the four components, they can determine if the issue, problem or opportunity is simple, difficult or wicked and address the topic accordingly. Complex adaptive systems thinking categorizes problems into three groups:

  1. Simple: well-defined, small-scale problem with an easily recognized and implemented solution
  2. Difficult: a medium-scale problem with a recognizable solution that will have little to no impact on other parts of the system
  3. Wicked: a poorly-defined large-scale problem with no obvious solution and greater implications within and beyond the system itself

Use complex adaptive systems thinking to improve your leadership and create effective solutions for aggressive problems.

Graphic with the title Analyze the Problem with Complex Adaptive Systems Thinking. Depicts the following four components of the thinking process around an illustration of a microscope with the word Problem. What are the Influences: barriers, attitudes, drivers, stakeholders and leverage points? What are the Multiple Perspectives: personal beliefs, world views, voices, knowledge and culture? What are the Interconnections: networks, relationships and behavior patterns? What are the Boundaries: issues, communities, requirements, systems within systems and scope of the mission? Below this info is the text Next Determine Which Category Best Fits the Problem. Followed by three options: Simple: small-scale, well-defined, easily implemented solution; Difficult: medium-scale problem, recognizable solution, little impact on whole system; Wicked: large-scale problem, poorly defined, solution impacts system & beyond. At the bottom of the graphic is the text: Then Solve Accordingly.
Graphic with the title Analyze the Problem with Complex Adaptive Systems Thinking. Depicts the following four components of the thinking process around an illustration of a microscope with the word Problem. What are the Influences: barriers, attitudes, drivers, stakeholders and leverage points? What are the Multiple Perspectives: personal beliefs, world views, voices, knowledge and culture? What are the Interconnections: networks, relationships and behavior patterns? What are the Boundaries: issues, communities, requirements, systems within systems and scope of the mission? Below this info is the text Next Determine Which Category Best Fits the Problem. Followed by three options: Simple: small-scale, well-defined, easily implemented solution; Difficult: medium-scale problem, recognizable solution, little impact on whole system; Wicked: large-scale problem, poorly defined, solution impacts system & beyond. At the bottom of the graphic is the text: Then Solve Accordingly.
Photo by: Andrea Batts-Latson
VIRIN: 200415-D-VE872-0001

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