5 differences between complexity & systems thinking

This blog post by Sonja Blignaut for More Beyond discusses some of the clear distinctions between complexity thinking and systems thinking.

The discussion came about after various workshops and meetings with Professor Dave Snowden who developed the Cynefin framework for evaluating complexity.


"1. Ideal future vs evolutionary potential of the present

Systems thinking seeks to define an ideal future (e.g culture) and then define strategies to “close the gap”. Complexity works with the evolutionary potential of the present i.e. it seeks to understand the “now”, find out what can be changed (in a measurable way) and then take small evolutionary steps in a more positive direction without any assumption of the end destination. I really like this, because I’ve yet to experience a project where the “ideal future” was actually realised. Most companies end up with cynical staff who become more and more disengaged with each new set of “mission, vision & values”." (Blignaut, 2013)


  • Ideal future vs evolutionary potential of the present
  • Complex systems are modulated, not driven
  • Complex systems are dispositional, not causal
  • Extrinsic rewards destroy intrinsic motivation
  • People are not widgets, not are they ants


Blignaut, S., (2013). 5 differences between complexity & systems thinking, More Beyond. Retrieved from: http://sonjablignaut.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/5-differences-between-complexity-systems-thinking/