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On becoming more complex (and what to do about it)

Thomas Owen Jacobs (Co‐founder and Partner, Executive Development Associates, Manassas, Virginia, USA)

On the Horizon

ISSN: 1074-8121

Article publication date: 2 February 2010




The purpose of this paper is to examine an individual's capability to manage complex or “wicked” problems, and to suggest a logic for the design of interventions designed to improve personal complexipacity.


The suggested logic is based on review of cognitive skill and neuro‐imaging research.


Fischer's model of successive cognitive stages, based on the operation of successively more demanding cognitive processes, serves as a foundation for intervention suggestions to strengthen executive cognitive processes and thus the ability to create complex mental models. Critical cognitive processes include response inhibition, reflection, and integrative association of differentiated perceptual elements. Intervention design must take into account both basic processes and epistemic cognition (for Tier Three problems).

Practical implications

Global complexity results in large part from intelligent but often covert competition by organizations and governments for scarce resources. Gaining and maintaining competitive advantage is essential for continued organizational and national well‐being. Interventions designed according to the suggested principles should increase personal complexipacity.


Application of these principles should materially enhance the value of interventions designed to strengthen personal capability to manage complex problem solving and decision making.



Owen Jacobs, T. (2010), "On becoming more complex (and what to do about it)", On the Horizon, Vol. 18 No. 1, pp. 62-70.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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