Byron's Babbles

Dynamic Complexity

img_2262I am reading a great book for one of my Harvard courses right now. The book is by Adam Kahane and is titled Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities. The thing I am most blown away by is the reality Kahane (2004) pointed out, that “Talk by itself, even brilliant speeches by famous people, does not create new realities. Most of the time it reproduces old ones” (Kahane, 2004, p. 69). Kahane (2004) taught us that our toughest of problems can only be solved if we talk candidly and openly. As we know, this takes a lot of courage. It should also be noted that there must also be deep listening. This really hit home for me as a leader in the education arena. We have complex problems in our educational systems and we must all, as leaders, immerse ourselves in and be open to this full complexity.

“[D]ynamic complexity, situations where cause and effect are subtle and where the effects over time of interventions are not obvious. Conventional forecasting, planning and analysis methods are not equipped to deal with dynamic complexity.” ~ Peter Senge

For me, the idea of dynamic complexity really hit home. Kahane (2004) said that, “Dynamic complexity requires us to talk not just with experts close to us, but also with people on the periphery” (p. 75). This means we must “widen the circle” and “deepen the bench,” which is very uncomfortable for us (Kahane, 2004). In reality, dynamic complexity heightens the subtlety between cause and effect. This heightened subtlety not only provides the key to explaining why some over-hyped tools don’t deliver, but is consistent with how growing knowledge in a field inherently advances and generates complexity. I believe this really describes our reality in education. This is why it is so important to involve all stakeholders in our solving of complex opportunities. Then we must employ open and deep listening, as this is the basis for all creativity. We must be open to truly listening to new ideas.

“To create new realities, we have to listen reflectively. It is not
enough to be able to hear clearly the chorus of other voices; we
must also hear the contribution of our own voice. It is not enough
to be able to see others in the picture of what is going on; we must
also see what we ourselves are doing. It is not enough to be
observers of the problem situation; we must also recognize ourselves
as actors who influence the outcome.” ~ Adam Kahane

The long and the short of all this is that the world is changing at a rapid rate. This is true in all organizations and industries, but particularly in education. We had better understand this, as well as the caveat that we cannot expect more of the same when we plan for tomorrow!


Kahane, A. (2004). Solving tough problems: An open way of talking, listening, and creating new realities. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.


2 Responses

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  1. Generative Complexity | Byron's Babbles said, on September 22, 2016 at 10:17 am

    […] I blogged about Dynamic Complexity after reading in the book by Adam Kahane and is titled Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of […]


  2. Social Complexity  | Byron's Babbles said, on September 24, 2016 at 6:56 pm

    […] each of the last two days I blogged about Dynamic Complexity and Generative Complexity respectively. My inspiration for these posts has been the book by Adam […]


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