It’s my opinion that some old canards about a distinction between systems thinking and complexity theory do the rounds – and they are deeply troubling and motivated by some ‘complexity theorists’ intentionally misinterpreting the roots of systems thinking in order to privilege their own work. A recent exchange on twitter – linked below – exemplifies this.
I agree that some ‘systems practice’ is done in a deeply mechanistic way (Nora Bateson has a great line in ‘small arcs of larger circles’ about the dominant mechanistic mindset and ‘no wonder that new thinking is interpreted through the dominant paradigm’). And there are some useful tools and approaches and complexity science is a serious and meaningful endeavour. But the idea that ‘this does this’ and ‘that does that’ is unworthy of us (and as soon as I try to address the distinction, it being a distinction, I inevitably fall foul of it as well), and I think we can do better by addressing the fact that there’s a range of theory, a range of practice, and a range of people – all drawing (whatever the complexity ‘map’ says) on the same roots and all seeking for comparable things – and we need to appreciate them as theory and seek to think about how to use them in positive and constructive ways – and that’s it!
Anyway, have a look at the discussion on twitter below.