Complex versus complicated
Complexity has always been a part of our environment. Where (environmental) science has already embraced complexity as a default, economics have great difficulty dealing with it. One of the reasons complexity isn’t fully understood by economists is because complex is often confused with complicated. Or as Wikipedia describes it:
Complexity (displaying variation without being random) has always been a part of our environment, and therefore many scientific fields have dealt with complex systems and phenomena.
The use of the term complex is often confused with the term complicated. Complex is the opposite of independent, while complicated is the opposite of simple.
While this has led some fields to come up with specific definitions of complexity, there is a more recent movement to regroup observations from different fields (interdisciplinarity) to study complexity in itself, whether it appears in anthills, human brains, or stock markets.
When dealing with environmental issues, the interconnectedness of things is ever present. Every decision will have an effect on other parameters.
On simplifying things
When we’re asked for a simple question, what people mean (most of the time) are independent answers. “If this… than that…”-answers. We want to change the result rather than look at the process that created the problem in the first place. What we don’t realize, however, is this:
- There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all answer
- reducing complexity in a complex problem will always make the problem more difficult.
Complex problems call for complex answers
Before going in deeper on complex answers, I’d like to define the term complex problems first.
A complex problems are also called multi-level problems. These problems are not isolated but embedded in a larger whole. For example, when looking at “the problem” of the third world, we’re not talking purely food scarcity. It’s more a structural poverty on different levels that has an effect on different actors. It’s vitally important to understand that complex problems are never urgent, they are relevant.
Complex problems are never urgent, they are relevant.
Sustainability is always relevant and always as urgent as it was before. There’s enough time, there’s no time to waste.
Now on solving complex problems. We tend to look for solutions that are simple, independent answer, able to blanket the entire problem. We won’t find those answers. Even more, by looking for them, we ignore the complexity of the problem and will never be able to solve it. Complex problems ask for complex answers. Multi-level answers where we try to give a different answer on different situations. These answers will be different for each and every one. Be inspired by other solutions, see how others coped with similar problems in other situations, adopt, adapt and improve.
And most important, a complex answer tries to show you how to play the game rather than gives you an end-score. It has to prepare you for a marriage not just for the wedding.