Applying Complexity Theory


Over the past twenty five years, sociologists, economists and other systems theorists have been developing an adaptive model of systems known as complexity theory. At the core of complexity theory lies a simple concept: that the true nature of a system is theoretically complex, unpredictable and unexplainable through traditional, mechanistic methods. From this theory one can make a logical claim that the functions of a river, an open market, and a local community are constantly producing outcomes that never could have been predicted from linear first principles, and that attempting to do so would only lead to more uncertainty. In relation to the work we are doing with local, open and decentralized business, this theory is what allows us to be successful in implementing community based models that foster resilience.


This may on first glance appear contradictory. Why would we base a business model on the assumption that the outcome of our work cannot be predicted? Because our work is much like the that of the independent farmer. Say you are a 4th generation wheat farmer, who rotates their fields every five years and grows five varieties of wheat. With each season and rotation you will never be able to predict the exact production of each field and variety, but you can recognize patterns from your past years of farming that land and wisdom passed on from previous generations to have a good understanding of what might happen.


Now, if I want to know about farming in your region, or want to develop some sort of solution for farmers in your region, it would make sense for me to ask you and your neighbours for the valuable information you have spent so much time accumulating. And, it would be absurd for me to instead only refer to centralized archives of data and generalized ‘trends’ which you played no part in creating to develop a solution. This is why we believe it to be counter-productive to try to create uniform solutions across diverse climates, communities and economies; because before it even gets close to implementation in a given place, the variables have already changed, and in the process more have been discovered.


Working with this complexity, is our greatest advantage in the work we do. It requires us to closely observe patterns in the systems we work within, and to form trustful relationships with the people who understand the patterns that we do not. Our work, like that of the independent farmer, requires us to act quickly and dynamically based on what we observe and what we know, and doing so will lead to the most fruitful outcomes, naturally.


  1. […] our region. After a year of doing this work, what have I learned? That things are naturally complex (see previous post on complexity) and there are no real endpoints. Whether it is financing a flour mill, coaching an entrepreneur, […]


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