Does systems and complexity need new words?

by | 13 Jul 2021

New words can be useful, but they can also mislead, confuse and turn people away.

Complexity and systems thinking is a different way to look at the world. It is easy to argue that to express new ideas, we need new words. However, we require novel words that don’t carry baggage with previous meanings that confuse and hold them back. Expression of novel concepts is more precise when we mint a unique new word to carry the meaning.

A new word is a small barrier, once overcome, that can be unambiguous and concise.

But should we start where people are?

Do we need to use the words they know? Are familar phrases easier for people when they make their first entry into what can be a bewildering maze of ideas and methods? Are the ideas of complexity and systems thinking so esoteric that they need a slew of vocabulary to explain them? Is a complexity or systems view of the world really so different that we need to invent a fresh basket of jargon to describe it?

There is no right answer.

Be deliberate when introducing new words to people.

Add a word when it brings clarity and there is no other way to say it without confusion. Use plain, everyday language the rest of the time. Definitely don’t use an old word to mean something new, only to then complain that people are using it incorrectly.

New words or old, always think of the reader and where they are, what they know and what they want and need.

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