Complexity means we have to keep things simple and look systematically rather than linearly at problems
The world is becoming increasingly complex. Every year tax code expands, the rules around business change, and governments come up with new regulations. With all of the complexity it is easy to see why we often turn to linear thinking when faced with problems.
Linear thinking cuts through most of the information and focuses on 2 factors. It looks at cause and effect, or right and wrong, and tries to fit the situation into those factors and ignores everything else.
But with the complexity of life, we can’t simply eliminate all of the other factors. The interconnectedness of our world means that there are important variables that will be missed if we take this linear approach.
But we have to be able to simplify. We can’t possibly process everything. We have to find a way to reduce the data into digestible and actionable insight. We have to be able to understand problems enough to work through a solution.
The answer for me has been to move away from linear thinking and more towards systems thinking. Thinking systematically means that we address the interconnectedness. But we don’t have to get so wrapped up in the details that we can’t improve.
In Simple Rules, How to Thrive in a Complex World by Donald Sull, the author talks about how we need systems to simplify the problem so we can better attack it. He says, “Simple rules provide a powerful weapon against the complexity that threatens to overwhelm individuals, organizations, and society as a whole. Complexity arises whenever a system – technical, social, or natural – has multiple interdependent parts.”
He emphasizes the need to simplify. “Applying complicated solutions to complex problems is an understandable approach, but flawed. The parts of a complex system can interact with one another in many different ways, which quickly overwhelms our ability to envision all possible outcomes.”
This helps stress the importance of simplification, which is a key element to systems thinking. It means that we have a high-level understanding of all of the various systems and interconnected parts, and then make decisions to improve.
It doesn’t mean that we get so caught up in the details that we can’t make progress. It means we emphasize progress over perfection.
It seems like every few years the scientific community comes out and says they were wrong about some type of nutrition advice. With all of the complex information and the fact that it is always changing, we might become overwhelmed. That adds to the difficulty of getting healthy.
I saw a video on the Internet the other day that said that staying hydrated while exercising is an over-exaggerated problem. The video claimed that companies like Gatorade and Evian funded the research just so that they can sell more of their product. It even went so far as to say that drinking water is dangerous. And it pointed to research and science that supported that argument.
It is no wonder why most people give up on their health and eat whatever tastes good! The so-called experts can’t even agree on whether or not water is good or bad for us. Looking at it linearly we want to know, “Is water good or bad for us?” But the answer is that it is both good and bad for us depending on how you are evaluating it.
But we still need to improve. We still need to make progress. We should still take all of the information available to us and make decisions as to how to move forward. We can take the common linear thinking approach or we can rely on systems thinking to guide us. But what we can’t do is let the complexity of the situation paralyze us into no action at all.