This paper seeks to make an assessment of the value and veracity that complexity theory makes as a “new” approach to futures thinking, and the implications that the approach holds for futures studies.
There are three sections. In the first, the notion of complexity theory is explained and its robustness considered, leading to a commentary on its status as a theory. In the second section, the applications of complexity approaches to change and futures thinking are examined, including its perspective on forecasting and scenario analysis. The final section comments on the compatibility of complexity theory and the relevance of conventional analytical forecasting techniques.
Complexity thinking implies that the causes of events cannot be known and that forecasting and scenario planning are doomed to failure. However, this perspective assumes that complexity has achieved status as a theory, a possibility which is rejected in this analysis.
It is proposed that complexity theory offers a neat metaphor for considering aspects of change, but that there is insufficient evidence to impel managers to dispose of forecasting techniques based on the flawed assumption that all change will be emergent and fundamentally unpredictable. In fact, complexity and analytical scenario techniques might be more compatible than is suggested by complexity advocates, and might be helpful in conceptualising alternative scenarios, as it encourages an awareness of emerging patterns.
This paper makes an assessment of the contribution that complexity theory may make to futures thinking, provides some practical guidance concerning its application, comments on the utility of conventional futures analysis methods and offers a view on the relevance of analytical forecasting techniques.
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