Byron's Babbles

Generative Complexity

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-10-13-05-amYesterday I blogged about Dynamic Complexity after reading in the book by Adam Kahane and is titled Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities. Another type of complexity worth organizing our thoughts about is Generative Complexity. Kahane (2004) said, “Generative complexity requires that we talk not only about options that worked in the past, but also about ones that are emerging now” (p. 75). To me this is all about not getting caught up in thinking about how things have always been done, but about how no one has ever thought about doing them.

“We cannot develop creative solutions to complex human problems
unless we can see, hear, open up to, and include the humanity
of all the stakeholders and of ourselves. Creativity requires all
of our selves: our thoughts, feelings, personalities, histories,
desires, and spirits. It is not sufficient to listen rationally to inert
facts and ideas; we also have to listen to people in a way that
encourages them to realize their own potential and the potential
in their situation. This kind of listening is not sympathy, participating
in someone else’s feeling from alongside them. It is empathy,
participating from within them. This is the kind of listening
that enables us not only to consider alternative existing ideas but
to generate new ones.” ~ Adam Kahane

We need to remember that there are many interdependent parts of a complex system. Additionally, a complex systems world view highlights that interactions between parts of the system and the behavior of the system as a whole are critical. As leaders, we must learn to do a better job of seeking out, fostering, and sustaining generative relationships that yield new learning relevant for innovation.

When discussing leadership we tend to focus on leaders’ individual characteristics rather than on the dynamics of interactions between leaders, group members, and the context in complex organizational systems over time; and we certainly do not do enough toward our own professional growth as leaders, or those on our teams, to create conditions that allow their organizations to evolve (2006). We must also find ways to improve our own and organizations’ ability to learn continuously and implement learning in action as projects proceed.


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

Surie, G. & Hazy, J.K. (2006). “Generative leadership: Nurturing innovation in complex systems.” E:CO Issue Vol. 8 No. 4 2006 pp. 13-26.


2 Responses

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  1. 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 Kahane titled Solving Tough […]


  2. Ton Jorg said, on June 23, 2017 at 6:06 am

    It may be possible to understand generative complexity by making the link between dynamic complexity and emergent complexity, with generative emergence as a key concept.


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