The 7 key messages of complex thinking

What is complex thinking?

Complex thinking refers to the ability to interconnect different dimensions of reality.

This definition is really short and also really hard to implement in practice. With business simulations we improve complex thinking (besides other skills or mindset).

In this article first we’ll explain the complex thinking better then this short definition. Second, we highlight 7 keypoints which can help you by using complex thought. Finally we give you a method which with you can improve your complex thinking.

Reading time: 5 minutes

If we talk about complex thinking we should mention Edgar Morin, the French philosopher and sociologist who has been internationally recognized for his work on complexity and “complex thought”. For better understanding of complex thinking we quote some thought from his work.

To understand complex thinking we should talk about ‘systems’ first.

As Aristotle said:

a system is more than the sum of its parts

Going on with Morin:

when thinking about systems, the first thing to note is that systems are complex. The system is a unity even though it is comprised of a diversity of parts.

If we read further the thoughts of Morin we understand why it is hard to use compex thinking.

When you look at a complex problem you immediately see the limits of classical logic, because we can see that the system is, at the same time, both more and less than the sum of its parts.

More: A system has certain qualities and properties that we cannot find in the parts by themselves. These qualities come from the organization of the system.

Less: The system is also less than the sum of its parts, in the sense that it imposes constraints on the behavior of the parts, so that some qualities or properties of the parts cannot be expressed. E.g. in social systems: as individuals we have many qualities and potentials that present us with many possibilities for behavior which we cannot exhibit because of constraints, due to socially determined laws or inhibitions due to group norms.

The main challenge in complex thinking is to manage this kind of complexity, the paradox: a system is more and less than the sum of its parts at the same time.

If you have enough time, watch this video with Morin about complex lessons in education

As Morin says the classical perspective does not take account of the systemic context of the object. And you make the same mistake if you don’t do it neither. So in the next chapter we collect what you can learn from complex thinking.

The (minimum) 7 points that you can learn from complex thinking

  1. Always consider the environmental context
    It means something very different to be called “darling” by your wife in your home, and to be called “darling” by a prostitute in the street – the different contexts change the meaning completely.
  2. Forget ceteris paribus (~other things held constant)
    If your market share is not enough high it is not sure that your price is the reason. It can be that your company sells at the best prices but due to your bad marketing strategy nobody knows about it.
  3. Consider that each decision contains uncertainty about what the consequences will be
    It is important to understand the limits of the power of human decision-making and control. Even in the case of the most determinate strategies, we have limitations in our capacity to follow and correct the trajectory of a decision and even perhaps of preventing a negative reaction to a decision.
  4. Deal with chance, unexpected and uncertain on strategic level
    You should learn strategic principles for dealing with chance, the unexpected and uncertain, and ways to modify these strategies inresponse to continuing acquisition of new information. You should learn to navigate on a sea of uncertainties, sailing in and around islands of certainty.
  5. Use reflexive thought
    With the emergence of events, or multidimensional, interactive objects and with random components we are obliged to develop a strategy of thought that are not simplistic or totalizing, but rather reflexive.
  6. Understand other people better
    Understanding is both a means and an end of human communication. Our planet calls for mutual understanding in all directions. You should study misunderstanding in its sources, modalities, and effects.
  7. You should develop the natural aptitude of your mind to place all information within a context and an entity
    You should learn methods of grasping mutual relations and reciprocal influences between parts and the whole in a complex world. The predominance of fragmented learning divided up into disciplines often makes us unable to connect parts and wholes; it should be replaced by learning that can grasp subjects within their context, their complex, their totality. You should search for learning opportunities which meet these requirements.

    Improve your complex thinking in complex learning environment

It would be much more easier if complex thinking would be taught in school education. But it is not. The predominance of fragmented learning divided up into disciplines often makes people unable to connect parts and wholes. So instead of school education you have to improve it by yourself.

There is the usual methods which can be useful: read some books, blog articles, watch YouTube videos. These can bring an immediate boosting effect on your knowledge about complex thinking.

However it can be a key element to train yourself in practice. In this part can our business simulation games help you.

In our simulations you have to make decisions in complex environment. We provide multiplayer environment where you have to deal with the uncertainty of decisions made by other players.

You have to continuously modify your strategy according to the other players’ strategies. You play in a business environment where all market players (consumers and competitors) affect the events of the market. There are no actions separate from other teams’ decisions.

You have to treat your company as a whole but also make your strategic decisions on department level besides you consider the market changes as well.

Do you have questions? Write a comment or email to us

Complex thinking is not an easy topic to understand or explain, but the benefits of learning it and incorporating it into your life are manifold. We hope this post has given you some ideas about how you can think complex more in your own life.

How has complex thinking helped you? Are there any important tips we missed? Share them in the comments.

Used bibliography

What is the Meaning of Complex thinking | Definition and What is Complex thinking; Didactic Encyclopedia

Edgar Morin (2014): Complex Thinking for a Complex for a Complex World – About Reductionism,  Disjunction and Systemism; systema 2014 | Volume 2 Issue 1 | 14–22, ISSN 2305-6991BCSSS

Edgar Morin (1999): Les sept savoirs necessaires a I’education du futur


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