How about tackling complexity as we’re naturally able to, not how we’ve been taught to?

I got caught out a few months back whilst explaining to a friend why I like to focus my work on areas of social impact when I was stopped mid-rant ‘Matt, stop. I get your point but c’mon, you’re talking like this stuff is something new. Lay off the b***s**t… yes, it’s complex but it’s also very simple‘.

In a split second, I understood and agreed. I’ve been reflecting since.

Complexity does seem to be the catchword of the moment but it’s hardly a new thing. As human beings, we’ve overcome huge complexities to simply exist to this point in time. I’d suggest that humans can handle this stuff, with ease.

I think that we make tackling complexity difficult for ourselves by wrapping it and ourselves up in said b***s**t, which the current world of work facilitates perfectly. We’ve created a whole industry of programmes, projects, methods and approaches unnecessarily to keep us busy.

Change is a constant in every single part of life so why, in the world of work, do we treat it like it’s a thing that needs to be scoped, controlled, managed. Surely these are contradictions in terms? Pretending we can control the uncontrollable.

I’m not talking about simple or technical change here, I’m talking about the messy, wicked problems. If it’s technical then fill your boots, make a plan, follow the Gantt! If it’s things like health, the environment or social/political issues, you know, the important stuff that involves and affects people? Then we need to strip away the industry and approach things with a fresh attitude.

Let’s think about it from a family perspective. When faced with something out of the blue, what does your family do? Does it;

a) Agree to meet when diaries align? Do you look to a single authority figure to give direction who allocates roles? Do you then vanish off into your bedrooms to dream up a grand plan on what you’re going to do? Try to do it all at once by working 14hr days even when you become burned out and disillusioned? Then give updates once every month or so with subservience.

Or do you…

b) Turn EastEnders off, grab a cup of tea around the kitchen table, argue the toss about what’s going on sharing your opinions and feelings on the situation? Work out what’s really going on and what can be done immediately to make it better whilst taking in to account all the other stuff you’re coping with? Then do that thing, together, talking constantly and checking in to ensure that you’re all OK and respond accordingly to whatever happens next?

I think the answer is more likely to be ‘b’?

The cliché of ‘there is no rule book for parenting’ is an example of that. As any parent will contest to, raising a child is all about ‘what’s going on, is everyone OK? what can we do, how did that go, is everyone OK?’ repeat. There is no rule book. It’s a mess of complexity yet we don’t apply an approach or methodology. We don’t scope or try to control it. We simply and naturally come together, understand, break it down, do what can be done immediately, learn from that doing and repeat. We deal with it.

Humans have adapted over a long period of time to be able to deal with complex problems. We have a brain that enables us to be able to respond to our environment quickly, pragmatically and adaptively. I think that as human beings, we can overcome anything if we come together. When we are open, honest and have a sense of shared purpose.

It’s the current world of work (and politics) that debilitates us in acting on our natural responses. If we could somehow step out of this overly structured world of hierarchy and metrics, then we would realise that handling complexity could be a hell of a lot easier, and satisfying.

In our personal lives, we overcome complexity every day. But in work, we struggle needlessly.

So, trying to practice what I preach, I’m trying to be more human in the work I do and encourage others to embrace the idea along the way. I’m convinced that anything can be accomplished if we drop the b***s**t, treat each other more kindly, and tackle complexity as we’re naturally able to, not how we’ve been taught to.

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated” — Confucius

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Matt Barnaby

Matt Barnaby

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A person who likes to do great things with great people so that together, we can make a bit of a difference to the world