Managing change can be both complicated and complex, depending on the particular situation. These two words, often used interchangeably when they are, in fact, very distinct.

Complicated: Complicated challenges have a cause and effect. It's knowable and fixable. Technology and coding can be complicated. An engine is complicated.

Complex: On the other hand, challenges in a complex system cannot be “solved”, they can only be managed, acknowledged, and perhaps influenced. Like the weather.

When working with clients, we acknowledge that tech implementations can be complicated. But there is ample technology choices that will meet their needs. So why do so many organizations and associations never see the promised value from tech?

Because people are complex.

Technology is complicated but getting people to change HOW they work in order to adequately leverage that technology is complex.

The best way to manage change is to identify the type of change involved and then develop an appropriate strategy. For complicated changes, a step-by-step approach is often best, while complex changes may require more creative solutions. In either case, it is important to understand the implications of the change, anticipate potential problems, and develop an effective plan for managing the change smoothly.

“Manage, not solve” does not imply that you should not plan in the face of complexity. In fact, you should develop creative scenarios to understand as many of the possible outcomes as possible. The framework below is one of our favourites for understanding how to manage complex change.

It's important to acknowledge that technology implementations can be complicated. However, getting people to change how they work in order to leverage that technology is complex. By understanding the difference between "complicated" and "complex" and using frameworks like the "thinking about systems change" framework, organizations can better manage complex change and achieve the promised value from technology.

If you’re thinking about how to lead change in your association, email me directly at to explore how we can support your organization through a Digital Adoption Strategy.

About the author

Isabelle Perreault

Isabelle is the Founder and CEO of Differly. She has spent her career helping business leaders understand the major drivers of change and helping them survive and thrive in a digital economy. She brings deep expertise in business transformation, corporate and business model innovation and go-to-market planning.

For over 20 years, she has been helping leaders in a wide variety of sectors develop and deploy human-centric, tech-enabled growth strategies. Passionate about entrepreneurship she also serves as a business coach to Startups with several incubators. Prior to launching Differly, she led one of the first Digital Transformation Practices in Canada and was head of Digital Strategy and Marketing for the Ottawa Senators, NHL Hockey Club. Isabelle is Chair of the Ottawa Youth Services Bureau Foundation and a champion for women entrepreneurs.

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