Complexity level — A primer
What is complexity level? In my work, a complexity level is a point or range on a dimension called hierarchical complexity. In this article, I’m not going to explain hierarchical complexity, but I am going to try to illustrate—in plain(er) English—how complexity level relates to decision-making skills, workplace roles, and curricula. If you’re looking for a more scholarly definition, you can find it in our academic publications. The Shape of Development is a good place to begin.
My colleagues and I make written-response developmental assessments that are designed to support optimal learning and development. All of these assessments are scored for their complexity level on a developmental scale called the Lectical Scale. It’s a scale of increasing hierarchical complexity, with 13 complexity levels (0–12) that span birth through adulthood. On this scale, each level represents a way of seeing the world. Each new level builds upon the previous level, so thinking in one complexity level is more complex and abstract than thinking at the precious level. The following video describes levels 5–12.
We have five ways of representing Lectical Level scores, depending on the context: (1) as whole levels (9, 10, 11, etc.), (2) as decimals (10.35, 11.13, etc.), (3) as 4 digit numbers (1035, 1113, etc.), (4) as 1/4 of a level phase scores (10a, 10b, 10c, 10d, 11a, etc.), and (5) as 1/2 of a level zone scores (early level 10, advanced level 10; early level 11, etc.).
Interpreting Lectical (complexity level) Scores
Lectical Scores are best thought of in terms of the specific skills, meanings, tasks, roles, or curricula associated with them. To illustrate, I’m including table that shows…
- Lectical Score ranges for the typical complexity of coursework and workplace roles (Role demands & Complexity demands), and
- some examples of decision making skills demonstrated in these Lectical Score ranges.
In the last bullet above, I highlighted the term skill, because we differentiate between skills and knowledge. Lectical Scores don’t represent what people know, they represent the complexity of the skill used to apply what they know in the real world. This is important, because there’s a big difference between committing something to memory and understanding it well enough to put it to work. For example, in the 1140–1185 range, the first skill mentioned in the table below is the “ability to identify multiple relations between nested variables.” The Lectical range for this row does not represent the range in which people are able to make this statement. Instead, it represents the level of complexity associated with actually identifying multiple relations between nested variables.
If you want to use this table to get an idea of how skills increase in complexity over time, I suggest that you begin by comparing skill descriptions in ranges that are far apart. For example, try comparing the skill description in the 960–1005 range with the skill descriptions in the 1120–1165 range. The difference will be obvious. Then, work your way toward closer and closer ranges. It’s not unusual to have difficulty appreciating the difference between adjacent ranges — that generally takes time and training — but you’ll find it easy to see differences that are further apart.
When using this table as a reference, please keep in mind that several factors play a role in the actual complexity demands of both coursework and roles. In organizations, size and sector matter. For example, there can be a difference as large as 1/2 of a level between freshman curricula in different colleges.
I hope you find this table helpful (even though it’s difficult to read). I’ll be using it as a reference in future articles exploring some of what my colleagues and I have learned by measuring and studying complexity level — starting with leader decision-making.