Complexity Management: an introduction

Navigating a complex world
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  • Lectures 21
  • Length 3 hours
  • Skill Level All Levels
  • Languages English
  • Includes Lifetime access
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About This Course

Published 9/2014 English

Course Description

We live in interesting times as on the one hand our industrial age systems of organization are ending their life cycle and on the other globalization and information technology are enabling the emergence of new forms of organization, this transition is in turn driving a fundamental transformation in our theory and methods of management, one that goes beyond our traditional paradigm designed for dealing with relatively static hierarchical organizations within relatively stable environments, to more complex networked organizations that are adapted to operating in a so called VUCA world of volatility, uncertainty and rapid change driven by innovation.

This course is a first of its kind bringing together some of the latest ideas from complexity theory and emerging approaches to the management of complex organizations. During this course we will explore many of these new ideas including, network organizations, co-evolution, co-creation of value, systems thinking, agile development, and the adaptive cycle to name just a few.

Complex systems and systems thinking

We will start this section with an overview to complex systems theory, talking briefly about systems thinking and what exactly a complex system is, with some examples. Following on from this, we will take an introduction to the basic concepts from complexity theory, that we will be using throughout the rest of the course such as self-organization, networks, evolution, systems and more.

Complex environment of the 21st century

It is often said that we live in an increasingly complex world, the pace of change, the degree of connectivity and the scale of operations are leading to rapidly escalating complexity in many domains. The aim of this section is to give you an overview to the main forces that are shaping the complex environment within which organizations have to operate in the 21st century. We will try to untangle and understand the underlying drivers that are causing this volatile environment of heightened complexity.

The VUCA framework

The net result of the complex environment that we explored in the previous section is what the business world calls VUCA. VUCA is an acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity; it captures the most salient challenges faced by leaders operating in complex environments. In this section we introduce the concept of VUCA and give an overview to navigating these challenging environments.

Networked organizations

The environment within which organizations operate has become greatly more complex over the past few decades. In the face of this our industrial model of organization that was design for operation within a very different environment is showing its limitation across a number of dimensions. In response to this is emerging a new type of organization that goes beyond the industrial age model, enabled by information technology, it is networked in structure, collaborative by nature, open and self-organizing. In this module we explore the DNA of these new forms of organization contrasting them with our more traditional form to understand their key features and finish by discuss approaches to managing them.

Complex project management

In this module we will see how a very different approach to our traditional linear project management methods are needed when projects reach a high degree of complexity. We will look at the methods presented by complexity management that are designed for managing large projects, under volatile and uncertain condition, within this paradigm projects are seen less as a set of linear stages to be completed and more as complex adaptive systems that evolve over time.

What are the requirements?

  • Being an introductory course no prior knowledge of complex systems is require (although it would be a bonus) all that is needed is a basic understanding of management/economics and a solid grasp of the English language.

What am I going to get from this course?

  • By the end of this course you should be equipped with the knowledge to lead organizations within volatile and complex environments

Who is the target audience?

  • This course is designed for anyone interested in the management of complex systems, it will be of particular relevance to those in the areas of business management and public policy making

What you get with this course?

Not for you? No problem.
30 day money back guarantee.

Forever yours.
Lifetime access.

Learn on the go.
Desktop, iOS and Android.

Get rewarded.
Certificate of completion.


Course overview
Section 1: Complexity and management: an overview
Module overview

This lesson will give you an overview to the area of complexity theory. Starting with an look at system thinking which is a more holistic way of seeing the world, characterized by the belief that the parts of something are intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole. Secondly we will look at complexity and four key factors that create complexity, namely: scale, diversity, interconnectivity and autonomy.


A short video presenting the key concepts within complexity systems theory in pictures.


Management is one of the oldest forms of human activity, people have been involved in the planning, organizing, analyzing and controlling of organizations and projects for a long time but it is only more recently that management has become more scientific and professionalized, in this lesson we will look at the rise of scientific management during the industrial age and decompose it to get a better understanding of its basic features.


Complexity management is an alternative to our traditional approach to management in that it embraces the often volatile and uncertain site to the world; the complexity of the intricate interconnects that make up an organization and the limits to directly controlling the elements of an organization in order to allow for novaly to emerge through the process of self organization. In this section we will export these main these to complexity management.

Complexity management quiz
3 questions
Section 2: Complex environments
Module introduction

In this lesson we take a look at the theory of globalization, in many ways the most all encompassing paradigm for understanding the current environment. Globalization looks at the rapid development of relation on the global scale that have grown at an exponential rate over the past few decades since the opening up of trade barriers and capital markets, the widespread adoption of information technology and the growth in our global transportation systems. Out of the proliferation of these global relations is thought to be emerging some form of global organization as elements within the global economy become increasingly specialized with respect to each other and thus interdependent.


In this lesson we will discuss what is called the information society, the ideas that information technology can enable a unique and distinct type of social and economic system, one that is based upon the processing and exchanging of information and knowledge. This paradigm of the information age will give us another perspective with which to understand the complex environment of the 21st century, from this perspective our current times are seen as a transition period from an industrial society and its associated soci0-economic institutions to a post-industrial information society.


The loss of biodiversity, growing scarcity of natural resources and climate change are all converging to put a huge stress on earth's systems and their capacity to support a rapidly growing global economy. In response to this has been the rise of the paradigm of sustainability that puts the need to achieve environmental sustainability at the center of our collective conscious. The challenges to achieving this are both overwhelming on the one hand but also offer great opportunity on the other, irrespective of which way you look at it, it will require the designing and management of much more complex systems that incorporate in many more social and environmental factors.

Complex environment quiz
3 questions
Section 3: Navigating a VUCA world

The net result of the complex environment that we explored in the previous section is what the business world calls a VUCA world. VUCA is an acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, it captures the most salient challenges faced by leaders operating in complex environments. In this section we introduce the concept of VUCA and give an overview to navigating these challenging environments.


The net result of the complex environment that we explored in the previous section is what the business world calls a VUCA world. VUCA is an acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, it captures the most salient challenges faced by leaders operating in complex environments. In this section we introduce the concept of VUCA and give an overview to navigating these challenging environments.

Volatility; Uncertainty; Complexity; Ambiguity
58 pages
VUCA quiz
3 questions
Section 4: Complex oganizations
Module introduction
The DNA of collaborative organisations
Peer production the new business model
Managing peer network organizations
12 pages
Collaborative networkedd organizations quiz
3 questions
Section 5: Complex Project Management
Module introduction
Complex project management: an overview
Wicked problems
Agile Project Management
13 pages
Project management quiz
3 questions

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Instructor Biography

Think Academy, eLearning for systems thinking

Think Academy is an e-Learning site dedicated to the area of systems thinking and complexity theory, our mission is to take the world of complexity and make it accessible to all. Systems and complex can be intimidating subjects with many sophisticated concepts, this is why we believe it is important to always start with the most essential, simplest elements of a subject making sure that students come away with a solid understanding of the core concepts behind each area. As Einstein said "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler"

Courses are curated and presented by Joss Colchester. Joss has extensive experience within the domain of complex systems both within academic research(mathematical modeling of complex system + network analysis) and has many years practical systems engineering experience(designing and developing complex web based information systems). He has a passion for taking abstract and complex concepts and making them concrete and accessible to as broad an audience as possible by combining clear and effective graphics with well structured course content.

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