Making energy cost of virtue to be less than that of sin

Making the energy cost of virtue to be less than that of sin…

“It’s a lot easier to achieve change if the system is pre disposed to change.  All of evolution tends to energy minimisation; if the energy cost of virtue is lower than that of sin, then virtue is more likely.”

Dave Snowden (The Cynefin Co)

For a week in September 2023, Complexability, together with partners The Cynefin Centre and The Griffith Centre for Systems Innovation, participated in events and activities with 100 people exploring contemporary social and organisational issues through the lens of complexity.

Provocations, discussions, methods and insights traversed topics including measuring and monitoring, commissioning and procurement, leadership and ethics, complex partnerships, community-based activation and strategic foresight.

These deliberations inform Complexability’s key areas of collective development and focus for the next 12 months.

Provocateurs included:

Prof Dave Snowden, Chief Scientific Officer, The Cynefin Co

“The thing about complexity is that you start journeys without necessarily having worked everything out. The science of essential uncertainty allows for exploration and discovery”.
  • Entanglement, unpredictability and volatility demand new approaches to strategy and distributed leadership
  • Goals in a complex adaptive system create perverse incentives because people focus on goal achievement even though that may not be the right thing to do.
  • Complexity vector measures of speed, energy and direction of travel support other Cynefin Co innovations of distributed decision making structures, citizen sensor networks, weak signal detection and real time feedback.

Prof Ingrid Burkett, Director, Griffith Centre for Systems Innovation

Whilst there is an increasing interest in ‘place-based approaches’ there has been much less focus on creating opportunities for sense-making that explores local differences and local interactions.

There is a need to:

  • focus more on the ‘boring’ and less on the shiny to make any headway into addressing long standing, complex issues with contracts, procurement and program design.
  • have different conversations about engaging with outcomes, goals, and targets when working with complex human systems.
  • ensure systems and processes become enablers not inhibitors.

Dr Jacqueline Boaks, Lecturer, Curtin University – Leads the Ethics and Philosophy Unit (MBA)

In exploring ethics and leadership, our (Western) obsession with putting the methodology before having the questions has an impact on curiosity, wisdom and evidence.   Questions like…

  • What do we pay attention to?
  • Can I be curious on my own?
  • Is leadership an individual thing?
  • Where does collective wisdom come from?
  • What counts as good evidence when there aren’t rules for the right answer?

Tio Taiaki, Maori Leader (NZ)

 Complex partnerships require:

  • equity of language and intent,
  • dynamic adaptation of resource allocation and
  • management of disconnect when decisions are at odds with other systems.

Leadership is a collective responsibility, consisting of:

Aspiration – engaging others;

Inspiration – enabling others;

Expiration – ensuring succession.

Proximity and connection are critical to holding people to account in a caring way.

Bjarte Bogsnes, Chairman Beyond Budgeting

“I wish I had the clairvoyant skills of budget people. They seem to know what will happen next year. I struggle with knowing what will happen tomorrow.”
  • Challenging long held assumptions that the future is predictable and people can’t be trusted with emphasis on coherence between what is said and what is done.
  • Reshaping and unlocking performance potential through effective alternatives to command and control management.

Marcia Dwonzcyk, Director Creativma International Practitioner Partnership Broker

The  Partnership Brokers Association principles are based on global practice, and  provide a start point for partnerships to develop their own context-based agreements for working together.

Recipe based approaches are not  sustainable for complex partnerships. Expert facilitators using prescriptive and pre-determined approaches that fail to build community capability are not fit for purpose.

Where to next?

‘‘Learning to dance’ with a complex system is definitely different from ‘solving’ the problems arising from it.’ (Roberto Poli)

Complexity is not a choice – it just is!

Given the above, here are our key activities for 2024…


 With Griffith Centre for Systems Innovation

  • Rethinking the “boring bits’ of Procurement and Commissioning
  • Complex Facilitation Resources for Community Activators

And with Creativma, Riteways Wanju and Tio Taiaki (NZ)

  • Complex partnerships – creating and sustaining equity based partnerships

With The Cynefin Co

  • Narrative research project SenseMaker® – leadership and ethics

With Bjarte Bognes – Beyond Budgeting

  • New approaches to Monitoring Evaluation and Learning using Beyond Budgeting Principles

Our Community of Practice is open to all.

More information

Viv Read or Julie Cunningham at










If you’re beyond admiring the problem or feeling overwhelmed email us.

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