Complexity Theory Made Simple Thru Lego Serious Play


Complexity theory, aka Cynefin, is becoming widely mentioned and discussed in software dev circles. The idea that most of our “problems to solve” are not obvious or complicated. So best practices are not suitable all the time.

So we talk about emergent understanding, obliquity, and complex systems.

Lots of eyes glaze over.

I came across a Lego Serious Play game that helps shed some light, in under an hour:

I’m planning a future blog post with details of my adaptations and experiences facilitating the game.

Agilique Strategies

This looks great! I find Cynefin fascinating but would love a more approachable method of sharing & explaining it (not just others but to myself!).


I’m working on that - an approachable method of sharing/explaining. I plan to have a shitty first draft early November. Up to be an early reader?


Yes definitely!


I am game too!


First of all it must be noted that Cynefin is not the same as Complexity Theory. Cynefin is an sensemaking tool. Complexity is the body of theory and practice that deals with complex aspects of systems, i.e. with aspects of systems whose future can’t be predicted in advance. Here the first problem with the lego game appears. There is no best practice for sorting the block by colour. If there was (and maybe there is, depending on number of participants and their training/experience with sorting) the game developed should have specified it.

Similar problems arise with the complicated, complex and chaos tasks. But lets deal with the simple task first.


Thanks for joining the discourse here, Harold!

I can see how I’ve mistakenly conflated “Complexity Theory” and “Cynefin” and I appreciate you pulling the two apart.

Before discussing the game, I wanted to confirm my new understanding…

Cynefin is a way of help us find out what domain we operating in. And then providing some guidance on how we might go about exploring, solving, etc within that specific domain.

Complexity Theory is specifically concerned with one, and only one domain: Complex.

Have I got it so far?


I’m curious if you have evolved this game at all. I read the feedback on the game here and was wondering if you have heard of anyone trying to address the concern about the building process being more complicated than complex.

I have not found any activity that helps people understand complexity and would appreciate any ideas folks have explored.


The best explanation I’ve found for “complex” is represented by this 4-minute video about the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National park:

Reintroduce wolves, the end result: rivers changed course.
Impossible to predict in prospect.
Possible in cause and effect in retrospect
Repeatable somewhere else?
Return a top predator to arctic circle ? No knowing.
That is complex. Unknown unknowns.