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Simply Complexity summary

Neil F. Johnson

A Clear Guide to Complexity Theory

3.9 (58 ratings)
18 mins

Brief summary

Simply Complexity by Neil F. Johnson is a comprehensive guide to understanding the science of complexity. It offers insightful perspectives on how complex systems occur and interact in our world, using both historical and modern examples.

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    Simply Complexity
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    Complexity arises through collective interaction and studying this can help resolve challenging problems.

    If you didn’t think about it too hard, you’d probably agree that traffic jams and financial markets are complex things. But ponder over it a little longer and you’ll discover that complexity is actually quite difficult to define. In fact, even the scientific community struggles to provide a clear definition of the term.

    However, the author has come up with the following definition of complexity science: the study of phenomena which emerge from a collective of interacting objects. One real-world example of this could be a crowd, in that it emerges from a collection of interacting people.

    As an ever-present part of life, complexity manifests in our everyday experience when objects or people compete for resources such as food, space or wealth.

    For example, a crowd of financial traders who all want to sell are competing for buyers, and when people get stuck in traffic, they’re competing with other drivers for space on the road. Even a cancer tumor is a “war” in which two competitors – cancer cells and normal cells – fight for space.

    As competition sometimes goes awry and leads to conflicts or market crashes, the resulting complexity creates a problem that complexity science can help unravel. The advantage of complexity science is that, drawing on ideas from other sciences such as biology, sociology and ecology, it can solve problems by forming otherwise hidden connections between complex systems.

    If we can uncover universal patterns in a complex system in one area of science, this can expedite our understanding of complex systems in other disciplines, therefore enabling us to resolve the problems that stem from them.

    So, although complexity science is still in its teething stages, it has a wide range of potential application to different fields, which may make it extremely important in our everyday lives.

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    What is Simply Complexity about?

    In Simply Complexity, Neil F. Johnson presents an introduction to complexity theory, explaining what complex systems are, where we can spot them in everyday life and how we can benefit from understanding complexity. Although a young field, complexity science already offers us ways to help explain and potentially avoid complex phenomena, such as traffic jams, financial market crashes and modern warfare.

    Simply Complexity Review

    Simply Complexity (2009) by Neil F. Johnson offers profound insights into the underlying patterns and principles of complex systems. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Explores the fascinating interplay between simplicity and complexity, helping readers understand the world around them.
    • Combines real-world examples and cutting-edge research, making it informative and relevant for anyone interested in complex systems.
    • With its accessible and engaging approach, it makes the often intimidating topic of complexity theory easy to grasp and enjoyable to explore.

    Best quote from Simply Complexity

    Complexity is deeply ingrained in our everyday lives.

    —Neil F. Johnson
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    Who should read Simply Complexity?

    • Anyone interested in new explorations in science
    • Anyone intrigued by the increasing complexity of today’s world
    • Anyone who wants to better understand complex phenomena such as dating and warfare

    About the Author

    Previously a professor of physics at Oxford University, Neil F. Johnson is currently head of the Complexity research group at the University of Miami in Florida. His work involves researching a wide range of real-world complex systems. He is the author of Two’s Company, Three is Complexity and Financial Market Complexity.

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    Simply Complexity FAQs 

    What is the main message of Simply Complexity?

    Understanding complexity is essential for navigating the modern world.

    How long does it take to read Simply Complexity?

    Reading time for Simply Complexity may vary. But you can read the Blinkist summary in just 15 minutes.

    Is Simply Complexity a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Simply Complexity is worth reading for its insights into complex systems and our changing world.

    Who is the author of Simply Complexity?

    The author of Simply Complexity is Neil F. Johnson.

    What to read after Simply Complexity?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Simply Complexity, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Thinking in Systems by Donella H. Meadows
    • The Simplicity Principle by Julia Hobsbawm
    • The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto
    • Chaos by James Gleick
    • The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox
    • Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrystal with Tantum Collins
    • Simple Rules by Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt
    • The Fifth Discipline by Peter M. Senge
    • Supercommunicators by Charles Duhigg
    • Third Millennium Thinking by Saul Perlmutter