We try to understand and predict events in the physical world by using formulas. However, many behaviors in real life can’t be reduced to a simple law. Sometimes, a system can’t be studied through analysis, because when you take it apart, the pieces don’t give you the full picture.

The hydrogen atoms and oxygen atoms make water, but when studied on their own, don’t have properties of water. It is their relationship that creates the wetness.

Similarly, our complex brains are comprised of many relatively simple neuron cells. An individual neuron doesn’t have the properties of a brain, but its ability to connect to other neurons is what makes the brain so powerful.

Another example is classical mechanics, which is much different than the quantum mechanics, even though the world is comprised of the same matter and energy.


Complex systems that can change their state to adapt to an internal or external change, are called complex adaptive systems.

Evolution is a complex adaptive system, because it has created highly complex organisms.

Ant colonies are another example. Ant colonies even have some characteristics of an organism - they are robust, adaptive and have a life cycle.

Organizational culture

Organizational cultures are also complex adaptive systems. Humans are social creatures, and their interactions are complex. Individuals can change each other and the culture by influencing each other, sharing information, choosing to interact with others to gain access to new information etc. Organizational cultures are also adaptive, and can react to both internal and external changes.

The emergent properties of complex adaptive systems make it difficult to detect the cause-and-effect relationships. As a leader, it may be tempting to try to reverse engineer the system and try to manipulate it, but it may be more effective to redirect the efforts into creating an environment where the right kinds of interactions and relationships between people can happen, because that’s often the essential ingredient that causes the right solutions to emerge.