Can the ideas and mental models from complexity science be extended and applied beyond academia, to business, policy, and government?
Far too often, valuable ideas are confined to the echo chambers of academia, where, in the absence of practical, real-world litmus tests, they fail to find agency where they are most needed. Complexity science offers a fount of useful mental models, and innovative thinkers in academia, business, and government often draw inspiration and insight from the ideas that complexity seeds.
Why? Thinking carefully about the multiscale, interconnected, evolving complex systems that vex humankind today—the economy, our food supply, sustainability, urban development, the power grid, technological innovation, to name a few—demands tools, approaches, and modes of problem solving that transcend the narrow domains of individual, specialized fields. Thus, a complexity thinker need not be a mathematician, a biologist, or a physicist to apply fresh perspectives to chronic or highly complex problems.
Theories of scaling from biology have contributed to improved urban planning and the optimization of creative environments. Approaches from network science provide deep insights about the workings of companies and commerce, the nature of human social relationships, and the vagaries of decision making. Computational models of markets and banking systems are vanquishing centuries-old economics “rules of thumb” that limit our abilities to foresee bubbles and crashes. From complexity, one can explore the interconnections of an ecosystem to reveal critical nodes on which the stability of an organization depends.
At the Santa Fe Institute, we acitvely seek the application of complexity ideas and the collaborative development of complexity-inspired solutions through our Applied Complexity Network (ACtioN) and other existing, and still-to-be-realized, mechanisms of partnership.