How can I know a complex system when I'm looking at one? Let's think big picture. If we think back into our history, we would find that our ancestors had challenges they chose to communicate in drawings - perhaps not just linear problems. Was this a clue that things were more than complicated?
We can begin to understand a complex adaptive problem by first acknowledging what it is not. It is not a technical problem. A technical problem is one that can be solved somewhat linearly. It may be complicated, however it's not truly complex. A truck engine, per se, has many parts which go together in a particular way and as long as all of our parts are in good working condition and accounted for, the truck works every time.
Does your system have just one answer? If not, might be complex. Complex adaptive problems don't have just one answer or one way to get to an answer. There are many variables in the environment that can create different influences and effects. The environment is a moving one, including humans, processes, combining old methods and new methods like technology, economic and social and other systems - most of which are in a constant state of change. We can learn to adapt as leaders and managers to this changing system using some tried and true complexity science. That said, it definitely takes a bit of courage to embrace the unknown.
Once we have methods for working and living in the unknown it becomes a lot easier. Upon study, once can see patterns emerge. There is order in chaos. Imagine people flocking into NYC subway entrances at rush hour naturally making way for one another, a jazz ensemble feeling their way through the night, and or an improv team acting within a scene as it unfolds. In each of these situations patterns may emerge if you study it for long enough.
One of the methods that I've found incredibly impactful as it allows us to unearth these patterns, see perspectives, and illuminate faulty thinking is that age old art of drawing, a non-linear practice. At first it's a method that feels unknown and messy for many. If we take drawing as a tool/method/vehicle toward understanding, appreciate the planning and messiness that comes with art, then we can use the method of drawing it out to help us understand and adapt while taking part in complex adaptive systems plentiful with challenges!