MOOC: complex problem solving
and sustainable system design        FREE

about this online course

The course introduces the participants to a (w)holistic worldview that underlies complex problem solving and sustainable system design. It explains how societal, natural and technological systems are organized, change, develop and interact and how complex problems arise and can be (dis)solved through system redesign. It also discusses the steps involved in redesigning current systems.

Assignments prompt the participants to apply this knowledge to a personal case study system by identifying problems in the system, brainstorm solutions and integrate the solutions into a coherent design, based on generic organizing principles. They also encourage self-reflection on the theory and its application.

The course also briefly explains what is required for redesigning large public (i.e. economic, cultural and political) systems and (dis)solving their complex problems.

why the course is needed

Complex problems are those that cannot be solved by the system experiencing them, because they are co-produced by other systems.

In personal life they are the issues we tend to blame others for having. They make us feel powerless and a victim. And we don’t seem to find a way out. There seems to be no solution (or only overwhelming ones).

Likewise, societies have complex problems that are apparently not solvable, ranging from poverty, overburdened education, health care and social welfare systems, to non-renewable energy use and climate change, and of course crime and wars. These problems persist, in spite of consistent efforts to deal with them. The ineffectiveness of our collective problem solving approaches was clearly demonstrated in 2009, when the finance ministers of the G7 declared “We know what brought about the finance crisis, but we do not know what to do about it”.  Yet a couple of trillion dollars were thrown at the problem to “solve” it and now we wait for the next finance crisis. Are we collectively mad?

Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Yet we keep promoting the same strategies that we used for decades (with minor, not fundamental) changes.

He also observed that “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when creating them”. Thus, the current reductionist worldview which gave rise to the status quo will not yield the solutions to the complex problems it created. We need to change our worldview to (w)holistic thinking and develop strategies based on that new thinking.

This course outlines the key concepts of this worldview and also presents a (w)holistic problem solving methodology. You can use this knowledge to solve problems in your own life and transform it. By deepening your knowledge (i.e. through the more advanced courses and learning about tools for collective problem solving), you can initiate (or participate in) the redesign of society’s systems (e.g. the industry or organization of which you are part). What cannot be imagined, cannot be changed. We first need to imagine how a renewable energy system, an information-age relevant education system, a viable health care system or any other current system should ideally look like and function, before it can be created. Armed with the Biomatrix knowledge and tools (e.g. detailed design knowledge, systemic frameworks, organizing principles, the BiomatrixJam for guiding online participation) and your smartphone and social network, you can spearhead the redesign of the systems of which you are part. You can also co-facilitate widening circles of stakeholders to discuss (and refine) the design, until its implementation becomes feasible.

target audience

The target audience is anyone who is overwhelmed by the complexity of their personal life and / or of the world they live in. Anyone who wants to solve their own complex problems and / or contribute to finding solutions for creating a more sustainable world.

the course as a learning investment

After completing the course the participants will

  • have a different view of the world and how its systems function
  • think more (w)holistically and creatively
  • know the generic principles of how systems are organized, develop and change
  • understand the theory and methodology associated with system design in general and its practical application to a personal project or function specifically
  • understand that we cannot create what we cannot imagine and that our task is to participate in the reimagining of a sustainable world that benefits all human and non-human stakeholders (instead of serving the privileged few)
  • understand that the solving of humanity’s complex problems involves a collective and coordinated stakeholder effort.

content of the course

The course consists of two e-learning modules. During each module, the participants apply the learned theory in template-based exercises to their case study system and reflect on the theory and methodology.

module 1: overview of general and biomatrix systems theory

This module explains the key concepts of systems and complexity theories in general and Biomatrix systems theory specifically.

The exercises generate a (w)holistic view of the world and an understanding of sustainable behaviour.

module 2: systemic problem (dis)solving

This module explains the theory for understanding complex problems and the methodology for (dis)solving them through ideal system redesign. It also provides tools for systemic problem analysis and brainstorming and provides a brief overview of the seven generic organizing principles that co-produce a system and need to be considered in a system (re)design.

The exercises involve identifying current problems related to the chosen case study system and brainstorming ideas for (dis)solving them. The output from the exercises can be integrated into a design.

see other courses and programmes

The Complex Problem Solving and Sustainable System Design Course is one of several Biomatrix Design Courses which educate senior managers and decision-makers in the theory and methodology of sustainable system (re)design and complex problem solving. The courses are based on Biomatrix theory which explains how systems are organized, change and develop.

project design course
function design course
business process design course
organization design course
industry design course
public policy and governance design course
public/private partnership course

in-house programmes


duration of the course

The average duration of the course is 3 months based on 1 day per week (i.e. about 12 days).

However, some participants could take considerably less or more time to complete the course, depending on their mode of study and nature of case study.


This is a free self-managed course.

admission requirements

No formal qualifications are required. Ideally the participants have a tertiary education as well as management experience.

course developer and facilitator

Dr. Elisabeth Dostal is the developer and facilitator of the online courses.

Her areas of expertise are futurism, systems thinking, strategic management consulting and change facilitation in organization design and development, as well as strategy and policy design.


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