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81514 Creativity and Complexity

Warning: The information on this page is indicative. The subject outline for a particular session, location and mode of offering is the authoritative source of all information about the subject for that offering. Required texts, recommended texts and references in particular are likely to change. Students will be provided with a subject outline once they enrol in the subject.

Subject handbook information prior to 2020 is available in the Archives.

UTS: Creative Intelligence and Innovation: Transdisciplinary Innovation
Credit points: 8 cp
Result type: Grade and marks

Requisite(s): 81513 Past, Present, Future of Innovation
There are course requisites for this subject. See access conditions.


In this subject students probe the nature of a range of complex dynamic systems. In the process they explore ways to understand these systems including the use of natural language, mathematics, and multiple techniques for visual and temporal mapping. Through undertaking a series of projects, students are challenged to creatively and rigorously test key qualities they have identified in various complex dynamic systems.

Subject learning objectives (SLOs)

Upon successful completion of this subject students should be able to:

1. Analyse, understand, unpack and map systems, organisations and individuals as complex.
2. Apply the principles, language and tools of complexity practitioners across disciplines and levels of granularity to ‘think complexly’ – to structure ways of knowing.
3. Interpret the different schools of thought and philosophical positions when thinking about complex systems.
4. Discern the basic philosophies, processes and practices that differentiate complex systems from complicated, simple and chaotic.
5. Sensitise yourself to the judgments and assumptions that are intentionally and unintentionally formed and applied when framing complex contexts through different lenses.
6. Apply complexity principles and insights strategically to generate creative outcomes and understand where creative interventions are most helpful.

Course intended learning outcomes (CILOs)

This subject contributes specifically to the development of the following course intended learning outcomes:

  • Identify and represent the components and processes within complex systems and organise them within frameworks of relationships (CII.1.1)
  • Select, apply and evaluate various techniques and technologies for investigating and interpreting complex systems (CII.1.2)
  • Discern common qualities of complex systems and model their behaviour (CII.1.3)
  • Test the value of different patterns, frameworks and methods for exploring and addressing complex challenges (CII.2.4)
  • Interrogate and generate ways to create value and evaluate outcomes (CII.2.5)
  • Use a range of appropriate media, tools, techniques and methods creatively and critically in multi-disciplinary teams to discover, investigate, design, produce and communicate ideas or artefacts (CII.3.3)
  • Recognise problems, challenges and opportunities that require transdisciplinary practices and assemble relevant teams to begin dealing with those problems, challenges and opportunities (CII.3.6)
  • Work within different community, organisational or cultural contexts to design and develop ideas, strategies and practices for betterment (CII.4.2)

Contribution to the development of graduate attributes

The five graduate attribute categories of the Creative Intelligence and Innovation department are:

  • GA1 Complex systems thinking?
  • GA2 Create value in problem-solving and inquiry
  • GA3 Inter- and trans-disciplinary practices?
  • GA4 Imaginative and ethical citizenship?
  • GA5 Entrepreneurial and Intrapreneurial skills.

Course intended learning outcomes (CILOs) are linked to these categories using codes (e.g. 1.1, 2.3, 4.2, etc.).

The REVIEW criteria-based assessment system is being adopted in the marking of subjects to give students feedback about their development of these graduate attribute categories over time throughout their course of study. REVIEW also enables students to self-assess to encourage a self-reflective approach to their work.

Teaching and learning strategies

This subject uses problem-based learning strategies that involves students in researching and developing their own / group solutions to complex problems / scenarios. This subject is studio-based. In each studio session students receive feedback and reflection from academics and industry professionals, whilst continuing to work on the problems / projects they are preparing and completing outside studio session times. Learning will take place in a collaborative, immersive, experiential, studio-based environment. Students will learn from academics and professionals across a wide range of disciplines and industries.

Content (topics)

* Complexity theories, models, philosophies

* Systems thinking, complexity theory, creative intervention

* Practitioner contexts, wicked problems, complex scenarios


Assessment task 1: 'Think complexly'


In this assessment you will describe a complex system or complex context of your choice, as well as map, annotate and analyse your complex system in action.

Consult the Assessment 1 Brief for detailed requirements and guidelines.


This assessment task addresses the following subject learning objectives:

2, 3, 4 and 5

This assessment task contributes to the development of course intended learning outcome(s):

CII.1.2, CII.1.3 and CII.2.4

Type: Report
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 50%
  • Effectiveness in describing complexity in action using theoretical and philosophical lenses (40%)
  • Skilfulness in applying the language of complexity to reveal insights (30%)
  • Criticality in distinguishing between complex, complicated, simple and chaotic domains (10%)
  • Level of understanding of the dynamic interactions in a complex system (20%)

Assessment task 2: Systems interventions


As a team, you will make a presentation on a strategic intervention (or series of interventions) that you have designed for complex system of your choice. Prior to your presentation, each group member will need to complete an individual component of the assessment task, in which you will envision a potential state in which the system could exist using one of the visualisation methods covered in class.

Consult the Assessment 2 Brief for detailed requirements and guidelines.


This assessment task addresses the following subject learning objectives:

1, 2, 5 and 6

This assessment task contributes to the development of course intended learning outcome(s):

CII.1.1, CII.2.4, CII.2.5, CII.3.3, CII.3.6 and CII.4.2

Type: Project
Groupwork: Group, group and individually assessed
Weight: 50%
  • Depth of understanding of system states and interactions shown in individual component (20%)
  • Appropriateness of application of methods in individual component (20%)
  • Clarity and coherence of system states and interactions in group presentation (10%)
  • Effectiveness of integration of systems analysis methods in group presentation (10%)
  • Criticality in analyzing relative strengths and weaknesses of systems tools (15%)
  • Insightfulness in identifying possibilities for strategic creative intervention (25%)

Required texts

The following chapters are available as PDF eReadings from the UTS Library and can also be accessed via UTSOnline. Please check UTSonline for other recommendations from academics teaching into this school.

Snowden, D.J. and Boone, M.E., 2007. ‘A leader's framework for decision making.’ Harvard Business Review, 85(11), p.68

Casti, J.L., 1994. ‘The Simple and the complex. Realities, rules and surprises,’ in Complexification. Explaining a Paradoxical World Through the Science of Surprise. HarperCollins Publishers, pp.2-42

Maani, K. and Cavana, R.Y., 2007. ‘Introducing systems thinking’ and ‘Systems methodology,’ in Systems thinking, system dynamics: Managing change and complexity. Prentice Hall. pp. 2-27

Capra, F., 1996. ‘From the parts to the whole,’ in The web of life: a new scientific understanding of living systems. (1st Anchor Books ed.), pp.17-35

Gray, D. and Vander Wal, T.. 2014. ‘Complexity changes the game,’ and ‘What is a connected company,’ in The connected company. O'Reilly Media, Inc. pp. 68-118

Montuori, A. 2011. ‘Systems Approach,’ in Runco MA, and Pritzker S.R. (eds) Encyclopedia of Creativity, Second Edition, vol.2, Elsevier. pp. 414-421

Other resources

Complexity Academy – Youtube Channel

Complexity – schools of thought - map:

7 Principles of intervention in complex systems – David Snowden:

David Snowden on safe-to-fail experiments:

Review of Policy Measures to Stimulate Private Demand for Innovation. Concepts and Effects, Nesta Working Paper Series 13/13, Jakob Elder

Senate Innovation System Inquiry interim report and issues paper now released