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Learning Activities Using This Resource Kit:

General Learning Activities, Demonstrations, Games, Etc.

Keeping a Complexity Journal


Group discussion, or private thinking, using the aide of Reflection, to keep a record of some series of real events as seen through a complexity lens.

When To Use:

After a sense of initial mastery of the basic concepts behind CAS; to sharpen your skills at seeing the world through a complexity lens. It will be helpful to have read through many of the Tales of Complexity in this Resource Kit to get an idea about how to reflect and how to record stories.

Group Considerations:

Appropriate for any group, or can be done as an individual exercise (maybe with later sharing).

Learning Styles:

Reflectors and Theorists, those who enjoy seeing patterns, will like doing this. Activists and extroverts will like it if there is plenty of opportunity for interaction with others. But Pragmatists and people who tend to judge/see the world as black and white might wonder "why are we doing this?" Discuss this openly, point out that things are seldom as black and white as we would like, and include in-sight and foresight reflection by asking "OK, so what action should we take next in this evolving story?"

The Leader:

Needs to be able to state a point of view without having others take it as the correct answer. Needs to be comfortable actively honoring other interpretations of events. Needs to be a role model and set an example by keeping her or his own personal reflection journal.

Supplies Needed:

Bound, blank journals; spiral notebooks; or ring binders.


Select a situation that you are actively involved in at the present. Again, you might agree on this as a group, or you might just do it by yourself.

Begin capturing the story by writing just a paragraph or two of relevant background information. Be concise. Think of Joe Friday on Dragnet: "Just the facts ma'am." But recognize that the "facts" in this case include the feelings and mental models of the agents in the CAS.

Reflect on the background information using the questions provided in the Reflection write-up in the Aides section of this Resource Kit. Capture your thoughts as they flow. Be explicit about the lens you are using to see the events; what do you see when you search explicitly for illustrations of things that you have learned about from the study of CAS? what do you see when you adopt the viewpoint of the organization as machine or military unit?

A bullet list is fine; don't let the structure of grammatical writing interfere with your thinking process. You can always clean up the language later, but you don't really need to. The point is to learn, not to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Repeat the fact-capturing and reflection described above for the events of the present and immediate past. Where is the story right now? What decisions are being made? What actions are being taken? Then, what reflections do we have about it all?

Now put the journal away. Let some time pass. How much time is hard to say. It will depend on the speed with which events are emerging in the system you are exploring. Use your common sense and intuition as a guide.

When, in your intuitive judgment, an appropriate time period has passed, re-open the journal and complete another cycle of fact-capturing and reflection. Begin by re-reading the story and your reflections up to this point. It is OK to edit past entries in the light of new events, but you might want to do this is a different color or a highlighted font. You want to remember that you didn't see it before and you want to reflect on this as well. But, in the end, you do want to be able to tell the story in a coherent fashion.

As the story progresses, you want to include more in-sight and foresight reflection in addition to your hindsight reflections. Commit honestly to your thoughts about what you think you should do next. If you write them down, then you can learn by comparison when you re-open the journal later and record what actually happened. You should be doing this in a safe environment; no "gotchas" nor snickers at naivete allowed.

At some point, the story will seem to you to have reached a conclusion. Of course, this is arbitrary, as every story in a CAS leads into and becomes part of another story. But, use your common sense and declare a stop at some practical point. Re-read the entire story and record you final reflections and thoughts (again, refer to the questions in the Reflections write-up in the Aides section). Go on for as long as you like. Really explore the entire story and your insights from it. If you haven't been doing so up to this point, try summarizing insights and lessons from multiple points of view. If you have been doing this alone so far, now might be a good time to sit down with a few other people and share the whole story in order to get their points of view.

A Peek Behind the Activity

As noted throughout this Resource Guide, reflection is a key skill in understanding CAS. The point of keeping a journal is to practice reflection, not simply to keep a journal. So, of course, you can use any modern technology that helps reduce the time-consumption of this activity. You could record you thoughts in free-form on a tape recorder. You could type up the notes, or have someone do it for you, on a word processor. Or, you might just prefer to stop with the tape recording. The point is that thinking is what it is all about, not writing. The idea is to slow down to think things through, and to capture your thoughts in some way so you can compare them to the future, unfolding reality.

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Copyright 2001, Paul E. Plsek & Associates,
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