Complex systems change over time, sometimes dramatically, and can lead to something entirely new and different.

There are a number of ways to describe the behaviours of complex systems, using principles like non-linearity and adaptation. We have highlighted seven important principles with seven eye-catching icons. Read on.

  • Nonlinearity_Butterfly_FINAL


    Changes to one part of a complex system can lead to dramatically different changes in other parts.

    The butterfly effect refers to the metaphor of a tornado being influenced by minor inputs such as a distant butterfly flapping its wings several weeks earlier.

  • Criticality_CatRat_FINAL


    When a complex system reaches a tipping point, its state can change dramatically.

    Dramatic population changes, such as an outbreak of plague-carrying rats, can result from a complex system reaching a critical tipping point.

  • Adaption_Octopus_FINAL_small


    Complex systems change to better suit the environment.

    Octopus are excellent examples of adaptation, using remarkable intelligencesight and camouflage to outsmart predators and prey.

  • Emergence_Ant_FINAL


    Interactions between single parts of a complex system produce actions not able to occur by single parts alone.

    Ants are autonomous units that react to, and communicate using, chemical stimuli. Despite a lack of centralised direction, ant colonies exhibit complex behaviour.

  • Feedback_Loop_FINAL


    A process in which the outputs of a complex system are circled back and used as inputs.

    In relationships between units (dots) within a system, outputs (lines) from one unit can feed back into itself as inputs.

  • SelfOrganisation_Bee_FINAL


    Complex systems follow simple rules to reach more optimal or stable states.

    Bees behave according to social rules where individuals organise themselves into colonies to care for close relatives.

  • CoEvolution_AnemoneFish_FINAL_websize


    As species interact in a complex system, they evolve in response to each other.

    Clown fish have evolved resistance to the nematocysts and toxins of their symbiotic hosts, sea anemones.