Coping with Complexity

Dealing with complexity feels a lot like grief.

According to the Kübler-Ross model of grief, there are a series of five emotions experienced by people who loose a loved one, namely denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I think a lot of people and organisations are going through a similar range of emotions when it comes to dealing with complexity*.

I think we are all mourning the passing of a simpler time and a simpler world. But it’s long gone as the world is becoming more connected and consequently more complex and uncertain.

Phase-illustrations-10 (1)I recall a moment during my PhD where I was asking my supervisor what the right answer was to a series of questions that I had. With a wry smile he broke the news to me that I had to figure out the answers to my questions myself. I recall subsequently going through various stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and ultimately acceptance.

It’s remarkable to me now that I seemed to have progressed all of the way through an undergraduate physics degree without questioning that there was always a right answer in the back of the text book. In hindsight, I think this conversation was probably the single most important lesson of my education.

It has also been really helpful to a lot of the work we do at 100%Open which in different ways is about coping with complex situations and figuring out what to do next. I now realise that the thing about complex things is not to try to make sense of it all. To try to do so is a recipe for insanity. Instead you just need to accept that complexity and uncertainty exists and despite that not to give up trying.

As with grief, I think when it comes to complexity we have no choice but to simply live each day as it comes and do what you can to nudge things in the right direction. To feel the fear and do it anyway.


*Rather than dealing with merely complicated things – see a description of the distinction between complex and complicated here.

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