Rebrand: Surfing Complexity

You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

When I started this blog, my primary interests were around software engineering and software engineering research, and that’s what I mostly wrote about. Over time, I became more interested in complex systems that include software, sometimes referred to as socio-technical systems. That attracted me initially to chaos engineering, and, more recently, to learning from incidents and resilience engineering.

To reflect the more recent focus on complex systems, I decided to rebrand this blog Surfing Complexity. The term has two inspirations: the quote from Jon Kabat-Zinn at the top of this post, and the book title Surfing Uncertainty by Andy Clark. I also gave the blog a new domain name: surfingcomplexity.blog.

In my experience, software engineers recognize the challenge of complexity, but their primary strategy for addressing complexity is by trying to reduce it (and, when they don’t have the resources to do so, complaining about it). By contrast, the resilience engineering community recognizes that complexity is inevitable in the adaptive universe, and seek to understand what we can do to navigate complexity more effectively.

While I think that we should strive to reduce complexity where possible, I also believe that most strategies for increasing the robustness or safety in a system lead will ultimately lead to an increase in complexity. As an example, consider an anti-lock braking system in a modern car. It’s a safety feature, but it clearly increases the complexity of the automobile.

I really like Kabat-Zinn’s surfing metaphor, because it captures the idea that complexity is inevitable: getting rid of it isn’t an option. However, we can get better at dealing with it.

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