Create coherence in complexity

‘Islands of coherence’ is a phrase the physicist Ilya Prigogine used to describe ways of approaching change in complex systems. He said, “When a system is far from equilibrium, small islands of coherence have the capacity to shift the entire system”.

Mistakenly, we often apply reduced, mechanistic, cause-and-effect thinking to creating change in complex systems. And we tend to expect that we can predict and control the outcome of something we do within a complex system. We’re always wrong.

We are part of multiple complex systems that interact in unpredictable ways. Our aim for change shouldn’t be to develop some grand plan but instead to create our own islands of coherence in our own situations and systems. And perhaps islands can connect with other islands, not in an attempt to bring order to the complexity as that would be flawed goal, but to shift the system in ways that that benefit those affected by it.