There Are No Simple Solutions to Complexity

We want it to be simple. We groan under the weight of the increasing complexity we are experiencing – at work, in life, in our communities and in political environments. We bemoan the fact there are no silver bullets even while we continue to search for them.

Not only do silver bullets or simple solutions to complex issues not exist, but when we try to apply any we have come up with, they do not work. We end up in a situation where fixes fail or backfire loops emerge. Fixes that fail is when the solution we apply backfires and the problem or issue still exists either in its original form or worse. Unintended consequences spin off increasing the complexity of the circumstances we have been attempting to address.

Examples of unintended consequences abound but one example from our Worldview Intelligence work is with a health care client we work with in the US. The client piloted a new approach to patient care in six of its more than two hundred clinics across three states. Including one of these clinics in the pilot put its relationship with two other nearby clinics in jeopardy – a relationship they had invested years in building to create a common patient experience – because the one clinic was now operating differently.

So, if simple solutions do not exist, how do we find our way forward? One way is to illuminate the complexity, the relationships and the underlying patterns. Working with a Nova Scotia client recently that has a strong reputation Nationally and Internationally for the work they do, where they work in numerous coalitions and collaborative relationships to accomplish their mandate, they were invited to map their system and relationships.

Map cropped

Mapping shows the messiness and the complexity of the system. It illuminates what people try to hold in their heads, resulting in less stress and greater capacity to address issues and plan.

The map showed the dynamic complexity of their work. A surprising outcome to them was that in making the complexity visible, it reduced the sense of overwhelm and stress many of the staff felt, untangling the complexity and offering clear ways forward in their work planning, including identifying meetings, who needs to be involved in which conversations to which degree.

Worldview Intelligence explorations do not necessarily reduce the complexity, but by illuminating it, shows ways to address it and then change the outcomes.

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