Photo by Greg Rakozy

The End of Simple

On progress, simplicity and the reasons we fight complexity even though we have lost this fight a long time ago.

We live in a time of unprecedented change. For the past 70.000 years we have witnessed the progress of our cognitive abilities, we have grown to shape the world we live in and we have learned to rely on collective intelligence which allowed us to make progress on a global scale.

70.000 years ago we went through the first major revolution as human beings: we became homo sapiens with the power to change the world. And from that moment on we have changed everything.

Thousands of years have enabled us to explore our own potential. The evolution of our ideas has turned us into innovators who go above and beyond what seems possible. We have built cities, we have learned to fly and we connected everyone and everything.

12.000 years ago the agricultural revolution allowed us to form economies and societies and we developed elaborate political systems. Just 500 years ago the scientific revolution kick started exponential growth in the technologies we use today.

By connecting the minds of millions we have created a collective intelligence that spans around the globe and provides us with what we call progress. Today we are looking at the most complex network of minds in our history.

Technologies are crossing boundaries in artificial intelligence and robotics, corporations around the globe rethink the meaning of work, diverse world views, cultures and religions collide and politicians everywhere desperately try to protect local power and authority while cutting diplomatic ties.

We live in a world of chaos. And our minds are not prepared for this.

For 70.000 years we have trained our minds to look for patterns and understand the world in terms of cause and effect. In a chaotic world this no longer works for us. The speed of technological change, the globalization of markets, the increasing cultural diversification and the lack of a global political system create a level of uncertainty and ambiguity that our minds fight in the most dysfunctional way possible: we oversimplify.

The need to understand, to predict and to control leads us in the wrong direction. We are looking for simple answers, simple solutions and simple truth. Yet, this is not the time for simple solutions. Simple solutions no longer work. 
This is not the time to build walls, this is not the time to stop exploring the unknown, this is not the time to fight complexity with single-cause explanations. This is the time to adopt a new belief system, the time to question our own assumptions and the time to see the opportunity to create the future we want. 
This is the end of simple answers to complex questions. This is the end of slow and steady progress. And this is the end of linear growth. We are entering the age of collaboration with strangers, an age in which we accept the unknown and the fear surrounding us without letting it shape our decision making towards simple solutions.

Instead of isolating ourselves in the false belief that this will protect the status quo we need to learn to leave our comfort zones despite the fear of losing control.

We need to go into this future with confidence, patience and forgiveness. Rather than constantly looking for simple solutions we need to relearn to ask better questions.

Robots and artificial intelligence will be around us, companies will be virtual and global, the workforce will be international and diverse, data will become the currency of this future and we will further explore outer space.

But no matter what, we are the ones deciding how this future is going to impact the wellbeing of humans worldwide. We are the ones who provide the ideas that make the world a better place or not. We are the ones demanding purpose beyond greed and fear.

This is not the time to demand oversimplified answers. This is the time to ask the right questions. We need to rethink our vision of the next 70.000 years. Simple answers won’t define this future. Instead our progress will be guided be the questions we ask today.

I’m Christoph Burkhardt and I have helped organizations around the globe for years to innovate in this chaotic environment by asking better questions. I believe that things get better and that we are making progress in many areas of human life. Yet, if you want to change things for the better it’s not a simple answer you should be looking for, we all should be looking for better questions.