Introduction to Complexity and Applied Complexity

Fall 2021

Purpose and Overview

  • Familiarize and gain intuition in foundations and themes of complexity science. Apply lessons and implications learned to real world problems in business and society. Coverage will be as broad as possible, each topic treated to a “minimal viable depth” to nail down concepts and establish anchor points.
  • Students should expect to leave the course gaining familiarity with the central themes in complex systems science, how they relate to one another, and how they can apply in practice. For those who wish to go into more depth in any of the topics, the course will give a solid jumping off point.
  • Intended for professionals and students that want to build understanding and intuition of the themes and insights of complexity science, and how they can apply this way of thinking to the problems they face.
  • Any formal treatment will be solely in the interest of clarifying and reinforcing intuition. Any math/programming will be introduced gently with only high-school math assumed. (And even some of those basics we will re-cover in order to ensure we are all on the same page. My experience is that going over what you think you already know can be very enlightening).
  • This course is NOT for anyone wishing to take any of the topics to a significant level of technical depth.
  • See below for a list of topics we will aim to cover (it’s a lot, so no guarantee), prioritizing conceptual clarity around central themes


  • Joseph Norman, PhD, Founder and Chief Scientist Applied Complexity Science, LLC
  • Guest lectures: TBD (between 2-4, mixed applied and foundational)

Structure and Schedule

  • Remote synchronous: We will meet twice a week for 90 minutes at a time online (lectures will be recorded for missed meetings).

    Meetings will be held Tuesday and Thursday 1:00 - 2:30 PM Eastern US timezone.

  • The course will run beginning on September 14th through December 14th for 25 total sessions (no class the week of Thanksgiving US holiday).
  • Office Hours: Students will be welcome to schedule office hours to discuss course topics and materials as needed and desired on a one-on-one or small group basis with the instructor. Will remain informal unless requests become overwhelming.
  • Course completion: Upon completion of the course, students will be awarded a certificate and become a member of the Applied Complexity Network that serves to keep participants in contact with classmates and future attendees. As the network grows and evolves we hope to hold additional events, both virtual and eventually, when this COVID drama subsides, in person!
  • This is NOT a “MOOC”. In order to facilitate an organic and spontaneous learning environment and direct interaction enrollment will be limited.


  • Self-organization
  • Emergence
  • Reductionism and Irreducibility
  • Phase Transitions
  • Agent-based Models, Networks, and Cellular Automata
  • Graph Theory
  • Nonlinear Dynamics
  • Stability and Instability
  • Ergodicity
  • Chaos
  • Probability
  • Statistics
  • Central Limit Theorem
  • Independence and Interdependence
  • Cascades
  • Tails
  • Stochastic Processes
  • Random Walks
  • Markov Chains
  • Statistical Mechanics
  • Cybernetics
  • Information Theory
  • Constraints
  • Variety and Entropy
  • Multiscale Variety
  • Fractals
  • Scaling properties and relations
  • Pattern Formation
  • Evolution
  • Fragility and Antifragility
  • Biological Development
  • Computation and Formal Systems
  • Syntax and Semantics
  • Embodiment and Heuristics
  • Theoretical Biology
  • Autopoiesis and Relational Biology
  • Anticipatory systems
  • Perception and Affordances
  • Human Organizations
  • Military and Warfare
  • Architecture and Building
  • Software Development and Architecture
  • Systemic Risk and Precaution
  • Pandemic Response
  • Policy and Society
  • Decision-making under uncertainty
  • Agriculture and Land Use
  • Infrastructure
  • Ecology and Climate
  • Localism
  • Trade
  • Economics
  • Innovation Processes
  • Traditional and Complex Systems Engineering

Sign up


"ACS101 gave me the foundations to explore more into different subjects of complexity science. Plus he's also a great teacher and a cool guy. I'll be the first one to sign up for #ACS102 if he ever decides to offer one."

Peter Huynh, Fall 2020
"Within the first 30 minutes of the first session of Applied Complexity 101, I learned something that transformed how I see the world and do business. This course is intended to be a survey of complexity science, but Joe pointed us to source material so I was able to go deeper into the topics that were of particle interest to me."

Eric White, Fall 2020
"Fascinating and relevant topic thaught by a recognized expert in the field who practices what he preaches! Joe provided a solid foundation and deep intuition to help us make sense of the complex world out there. He is a great lecturer who mixes formal presentations, group discussions and live computer time to explore the topics presented. The list of recommended readings before each class has helped me set-up my reference librairy on the subject."

Arie Haziza, Fall 2020
"As for many others, [Joe's] association with Nassim and Yaneer, and in particular that super-prescient January 26, 2020 one-pager [Joe] authored with them that said "this Covid shit is extremely fat tailed - shut down all the travel, apply precautionary principle to the max" is what got me to seek and follow you on Twitter. I jumped on a chance to sign up - remember the 1st 30 spots were filled in less than 24 hours? And the course was packed with wisdom - unusual for a youngster lad like you :-). It enabled me to think different(ly) in my day job: about complexities of communication networks and associated trade-offs of how to keep expending network capacity / keep boosting network bandwidth, without making it more vulnerable. but wait, there is more! 1) Was please to find that the other class participants are a primo group of true originals. 2) the guest lecturers were "who is who" of contemporary wisdom. 3) This localism movement you've started makes so so much sense even in NH!"

Zee Maricevic, Fall 2020
"Best investment of my time and money in 2020, hands down. Joe has a unique view on the applications of complexity science that you won't find anywhere else. The course offers a refreshing mix of creative content, on-the-fly iPad art and python coding, interesting guest lecturers, and the occasional in-class networking over a glass of bourbon. Very helpful for me professionally and personally (I've got a nice new list of reading material for the beach!)"

Aaron Green, Fall 2020
"Guest lecturing in ACS101 was a breath of fresh air. The diverse education, business, geographic and cultural backgrounds of participants creates an engaging and stimulating environment that enriches an already fascinating and worthwhile class. I'll eagerly return for future guest lectures if given the opportunity."

Dr. Harry Crane, Rutgers University, Guest Lecturer
"Highly recommended. I look forward to it twice a week each week"

Jack Murphy, Spring 2021
"This course has lead me to some profound realizations. Plus it attracts some high quality participants (and guests!); thus great discussion + content. I reckon I'm getting 10x the value."

Sam Hain, Spring 2021

Sign up