Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Nebraska
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Nebraska Project

Generation Novelty in Complex Systems

January 2015 - December 2019


Participating Agencies

  • McDonnell Foundation

Novelty and innovation are essential attributes for the continued success of ecological, social and other complex systems, both natural and anthropogenic. Without them, dynamic, adaptive change in response to disturbance is not possible. Novelty and innovation are required to keep existing complex systems resilient and adaptable, and to create new structures and interactions following catastrophic ecological or social failures. The importance of novelty is recognized in the management and business world, but is less explicitly recognized and appreciated in the scientific world. Without innovation and novelty, systems may become stagnant. Having a constant source of innovation and novelty is clearly important for systems, both following transformations and during their normal dynamics. However, novelty may be a destructive force as well. Invasive species, for example, can alter basic process and structure in ecosystems and be a source for decline or collapse. Cellular mutations can have obviously destructive consequences upon individuals and lineages—cancer is a prime example. Thus, innovation and novelty can be a double-edged sword. In ecosystems, for example, novelty in the form of new species has been a cause of major extinctions, but is also the prime source for recovery. To explore the causes and consequences of the generation of novelty and innovation for humans, for social systems and for ecological systems, we will convene a small diverse group of researchers from diverse disciplines, with a variety of approaches and backgrounds, where we believe a deliberate focus on the concept of novelty could be fruitful. Our overall intent is to identify commonalities across disciplines. What attributes of a system are necessary if novelty is to arise? What might be the consequences, both positive and negative, of systems structured to permit novelty and innovation?