Brad Feld

Tag: complex adaptive systems

A Simple, a Complicated, and a Complex system walk into a bar.

Simple says to the bartender, “Can I have a drink?” The bartender gives Simple a glass of water.

Complicated says to the bartender, “Can I have a Rum Martinez?” The bartender does the following:

Complex says to the bartender, “Can I have a Startup Community?” The bartender escorts Complex to the spot behind the bar where the bartender was previously standing and says, “You now have all the tools to make your own drink.”

Ian and I are in Knoxville grinding through getting our draft of The Startup Community Way (now at 65,000 words) into shape. A core part of the construct of the book is the notion of a complex adaptive system which we are using as the framework for explaining the behavior of a startup community.

To understand how a startup community evolves, you have to understand how complex adaptive systems work. SCW (our TLA for the book The Startup Community Way, as compared to SC1, which is our TLA for the book Startup Communities) has two chapters on this (currently Chapter 5: The Science of Startup Communities and Chapter 6: Practical Implications of Complex Adaptive Systems).

But even before you get to this point, it’s important to understand the difference between Simple, Complicated, and Complex systems. As a starting point, I thought I’d try to describe them in simple language, rather than dig into the extended theory around them.

A Simple system is one that has a single path to a single answer. If you want to get to the solution, there is one, and only one, way to do it.

A Complicated system is one that has multiple paths to a single answer. To get to the answer, you have multiple different choices you can make. However, there is only one correct solution.

A Complex system is one that has multiple paths to multiple answers.

When you toss in the word “adaptive”, you end up with a system that changes based on the choices that you make, and as a result of these choices, the answers change.

Startup communities are complex adaptive systems. Ian and I have been wrestling that notion to the ground for a while (I credit him with coming up with the idea) and we are getting closer, even though the answer keeps changing as we learn more about it (see what I did there?)