The Case for Complexity, the Pecha Kucha way

Posted by  Mark Schenk —July 16, 2009
Filed in Communication

Last week I gave a presentation to the Canberra Pecha Kucha group on complexity. I subsequently recorded the presentation and loaded it to youtube.

Pecha Kucha (explained in a you tube video here) is a presentation format where you have 20 slides and each slide is visible for 20 seconds. Putting the presentation together highlighted a number of things, the most important of which is that it reminded me that organisations and governments still have a long way to go to be able to make effective progress with complex problems. I am hoping the youtube video will help raise awareness of this issue.

The Pecha Kucha format was very useful in helping to really focus the message. All of the presentations last week were excellent, one in particular was very moving. Having seen a range of quite bad Pecha Kucha presentations previously, my conclusion is that you need to practice the Pecha Kucha a few times for it to work.

My thanks go to Scott Sharpe for following up a conversation on the night where I attributed the quote “I have written you a long letter as I didn’t have time to write a short one” to Mark Twain. Scott did some checking and it turns out that this quote is often mistakenly attributed to Twain. It is actually Blaise Pascal’s and the correct quote is “I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had time to make it shorter.” Thanks Scott.

Mark Schenk About  Mark Schenk

Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on:


  1. John Caddell says:

    Very nice explanation of complexity in business/govt and great use of the Pecha Kucha approach!
    regards, John

  2. Nice work Mark. Really enjoyed your analysis and examples, which illustrated your point nicely. I really enjoy the work that you do. Thank you.

  3. Hey Mark, that’s excellent on so many levels. Clearly the Dave Snowden content as well as the Pecha Kucha (20×20) approach.
    Two observations / questions …
    One .. the technique clearly involves practice as well as preparatory effort / rehearsal. The snag I always find is even if you have the mental creativity to envisage the image you’d like on a given slide – it takes significant effort to put together a set of unform quality. A hi-res image followed by a duff piece of clip-art jars – or the cliche’s of stock images. Be interested on advice in how you source and assemble the images – process and tools you use?
    Secondly the content – as advertised you focussed on the “complex” quadrant. You picked one very brief example of the “chaotic”. Yet in the complex you several times referred to the unpredictable effects of small inputs. Be interested to know what working definition you use to distinguish Complex from Chaotic in practice? (The messages I took from Dave’s original work in those quadrants was not so much which quadrant you were in, but strategies for moving between them ?)

  4. Mark Schenk says:

    Hi Ian,

    Yes, putting the images together was quite a bit of work. I did have an outline in my head for the presentation and an idea of some of the images. As I reheased it, it became clear there were far too many concepts in it and that led to revisiting the images as well. For me, the pecha kucha evolved over a 2-3 day period till I hit the deadline. Without the deadline I would still be refining it :-). Shawn and I give a lot of presentations and we always uses a lot more images than words, so we have quite a collection to select from. The rest of the images I went searching for. I look at Flickr (creative commons content) and can find occasional images there, though none for the pecha kucha. The main source is where images can be purchased for a few dollars each. Google images is generally no use due to the low resolution of the images.

    Regarding distinguishing complex from chaotic…I don’t spend much energy thinking about the chaotic space. Chaotic situations often occur without warning, don’t last for long and require decisive leadership to make progress. Apart from contingency planning in advance, chaotic situations don’t allow for deliberate and considered assessment and response. You just do. In my view, the main game is helping organisations and governments tackle the many highly complex and incredibly important challenges they face right now and in the immediate future.

    ‘Little things can make a big difference’ in complex situations and I emphasise this point because we tend to dismiss ‘small things’ as being ‘trivial and ineffective things’ – which is a big mistake.

  5. heiki says:

    Thanks for sharing. Any reason in particular why you don’t include the fifth domain in your presentation?

  6. Mark Schenk says:

    Hi Heiki,

    I didn’t mention the disorder domain as it doesn’t help at a practical level for such a brief treatment (IMHO). I also find that almost every complex problem has simple and complicated (and sometimes chaotic) components as well. Even the Nov 07 HBR article only mentioned disorder in passing.

  7. Hi Mark,
    I wrote a post and used your video as a stepping stone to make a few points. You do a nice job with this video and your descriptions on using the framework on complex subjects are very helpful.
    York Region community organizations and those with a keen interest in solving long standing systemic issues are beginning a process of discussion on “engagement”.
    The York Region District School Board, concerned about school – community engagement, is a key public organization in the planning for a roundtable discussion event to held in February 2010. The roundtable planning group is comprised of members from a diverse collection of social benefit organizations and local planning networks.
    In an environment where cynicism prevails, the challenge of tapping into new and creative actions seems daunting at best. To me, the driving questions at this point revolves around “how do we create a stronger sense of belonging, marked by authentic engagement (in its many forms), in our community”.
    When we talk about community, belonging, engagement, systemic barriers, authentic dialogue, inclusive processes etc.. we are talking complexity. How do we have a meaningful and sense making discussion when we are constantly wearing our silo centred, agency representative hat? It’s a bit like seeing the fairy dancing on the head of the pin. You know that fairy is there but you just have to hold the pin in the right way to see him/her.
    I think that one of the ways to see that fairy is to somehow suspend or put on the shelf for the moment our agency representation hat and just wear our community citizen hat. When we do that, we can engage with each other and talk about what community means, where does belonging fit into community and what might our community look like if we waved our magic wand and on and on. I think there would be wonderful lessons in that discussion that we can build on and potentially influence policy makers in our organizations. Even more importantly, those lessons can impact us on individual (personal) levels as community citizens, potentially creating a ripple effect in our relationships within our spheres of belonging.
    This video by Mark Schenk from Anecdote expands the explanation of the Cynefin model.
    I like this model as a tool that can help us understand what we are getting into with our community roundtable planning discussions. I think there are some great tips in the Cynefin framework that we can incorporate in our planning for of the roundtable. I especially like the simplicity of the Cynefin framework and how it points to the importance of looking at patterns and building on patterns that show promise.

  8. dave williams says:

    Great presentation Mark. Nice compilation of the model

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