It's a Complex World

The continuous movement and change in our complex world can be overwhelming. It's easy to cling to the desire for control as a way to conquer randomness. So how —and why— would we choose to embrace that complexity?

Complexity describes our reality and its in our best interest to learn to navigate the uncertainty and unpredictability it portends. We can start by letting go of the illusions that we are in control and can accurately predict intended outcomes. Instead, outcomes emerge in our ongoing interactions as we work toward a mutually-intended direction. We can learn to recognize and engage with patterns of human behavior as they unfold and find ways to build on healthy patterns and shift unhealthy ones through our interactions.

A Generative Communication mindset embraces the complexities of human interaction that spark co-creative problem solving and build stronger communities for enhanced quality of life and long-term survival..

Read on as we dive into the foundational portal, Embrace Complexity, and begin to unlock the keys to Generative Communication and an exciting new way of thinking about human interactions.

Embrace Complexity

Does a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas? You've likely heard a version of Edward Lorenz's provoking question first posed at a scientific lecture in 1972. The butterfly effect and the study of chaos theory are founded on the understanding that complex dynamic systems show unpredictable behaviors. Even tiny variances have profound effects on the system's outcome. Complexity describes this emerging view of reality as explored by scientists across multiple disciplines. It is characterized by continuous movement and change, combining order and randomness through interdependent interactions among parts of a whole. As humans, we are an integral part of the infinite complexity of nature. This realization has allowed social scientists to gain exciting new insights into human behavior and how our interactions contribute to the outcomes we experience.

Complexity thinking challenges our dominant, acculturated view of reality—a worldview that has informed our dominant habits of thinking and communicating for centuries. This view, advanced during the scientific revolution beginning in the late 16th century, assumes an objective reality outside of ourselves—one that can be observed, analyzed, divided into parts, measured, and controlled. We confidently draw conclusions based on presumed certainty and predict future outcomes accordingly. Understanding reality in this way has led to extraordinary advancements in science, industry, management, and organizational structures designed for efficiency and control. The scientific method continues to be a valuable tool for developing new knowledge, even as scientists explore the emergent and unpredictable qualities of complexity. Notwithstanding our culture's deeply-rooted habits of thinking and communicating, a radical change in how we understand reality and ourselves in it is rumbling in the distance, getting louder every day. This new view of a complex reality replaces our illusions of certainty, control, and predictability with characteristics that provide insight into generative human interaction.

Learning to embrace complexity benefits anyone who chooses to engage with others for a common purpose. Whether they are a leader within their communities, schools, families, places of work, or even amongst a circle of their peers, the first step into a generative communication mindset is recognizing the complex interactive processes at play. By welcoming complexities and working to observe and understand life as it is happening, the remaining portals into generative communication become much more accessible. Complexity thinking challenges our culturally dominant view of reality, ingrained in us.

Characteristics of Complexity

Embracing Complexity is a foundational portal into a Generative Communication mindset. There are seven characteristics of complexity that are particularly relevant as we learn to navigate uncertainty together in a predictably unpredictable world.


"Everything is connected to everything else." Components of complex networks impact and are impacted by one another through their interactive movement. When one component changes, others also change.


Nothing stays the same for long. Complex networks are highly sensitive to change and adapt accordingly. Adaptation is nature's way of sustaining itself. And humans are a part of nature!


Interactions among components of complex networks organize themselves into emerging outcomes, despite attempts to organize and control them from the outside.


Outcomes unfold –or emerge– in the ongoing interactive processes of complex life. Outcomes can range from reasonably predictable to shockingly unpredictable.

Embracing Complexity is the foundational portal into communicating generatively.

Generative Communication is essential for our mutual well-being and ultimate survival—co-creating and sustaining life by consciously engaging with one another and our world for a common purpose.

- Mary A. Ferdig, Ph.D.

”As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.” -Albert Einstein

The key characteristics of complexity —Interdependence, Nonlinearity, Adaptation, Self-organization, Emergence, Pattern Formation— define our changing understanding of reality by replacing what we currently understand as certainty, control, and predictability. Instead of seeking objective outcomes, presuming a black-or-white answer, or relying on a cause-and-effect relationship of action to outcome, we can move with the interactive flow of emergence toward a mutually-defined direction for solving problems and co-creating new ideas. Let go of illusions of an objective, fixed reality that we can control, and even predict. Endeavor to practice the art of letting go of those illusions, again and again.