The Difference Between Complicated And Complex

Many authors of academic work in various fields have faced a challenge by defining the term ‘complex’. By this, it is common practice to illustrate how ‘complex’ distinguishes to the word ‘complicated’. While the Cynefin Framework developed by David J. Snowden and the Stacey Matrix from Ralph D. Stacey offer a tremendous contribution to the cause, it is always handy to get some allegorical support for the discourse. Johnnie Moore has formulated a couple of smart lines which especially would delight the enthusiast in airline complexity:

‘The wiring on an aircraft is complicated. To figure out where everything goes would take a long time. But if you studied it for long enough, you could know with (near) certainty what each electrical circuit does and how to control it. The system is ultimately knowable. If understanding it is important, the effort to study it and make a detailed diagram of it would be worthwhile.

So complicated = not simple, but ultimately knowable.

Now, put a crew and passengers in that aircraft and try to figure out what will happen on the flight. Suddenly we go from complicated to complex. You could study the lives of all these people for years, but you could never know all there is to know about how they will interact. You could make some guesses, but you can never know for sure. And the effort to study all the elements in more and more detail will never give you that certainty.

So complex = not simple and never fully knowable. Just too many variables interact.

Managing humans will never be complicated. It will always be complex. So no book or diagram or expert is ever going to reveal the truth about managing people.’

Author: Moore J. (2005). More Space: Nine Antidotes To Complacency In Business.
The book is available at (direct link) 
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