Attending to Complicatedness

Complexity is hard. It’s hard to work with, it’s hard to be in, it’s just plain hard! But we make it harder on ourselves by adding complicatedness to the complexity.

At work, when we’re stuck on a problem or making a mess of things, try addressing complicatedness before addressing complexity. Get in the habit of asking: Do we have a mess or a mission?

A mess is when we aren’t sure what conversation we are having or what question we are answering.

A mission is when we are already clear about what it is that we are here to do.

  • Which conversation are we having?
  • How many conversations are there actually?
  • Are we having the right conversation?
  • Are we trying to answer more than one question?
  • Do we need to answer more than one question?
  • Are we answering the right question?
  • Is everyone on the same page about that?
  • Do we need to answer a different question?
  • Do we need to answer a bigger question?

We don’t need to have the wording perfect, we just need to agree roughly that we’re all in the same ballpark in order to proceed. If it turns out we were mistaken there’s plenty of room to move later on. We just need to be pretty happy with the idea that we’re sufficiently on the same page: that we are talking about and working on the same thing (even if we’re unclear about how that will unfold).

Once we can pull apart these and set aside the complicatedness, then we can attend to what we hold. And what we hold may be simple, complicated, wicked or complex (or some of each). But if we try and tackle them all at once then we are adding unnecessary stress and frustration.

Deal with complicatedness before dealing with complexity.