The longing for simple answers - a trap?

There is a longing for simple answers to rather complex problems in our society - be it in politics dealing with environmental, geopolitical or social problems, in management or in our private lives. But also in science there is sometimes the quest for a simple answer and scientists all too often fall into this trap, when challenged. This problem of simple answers or simplification has been promoted as "This Idea Must Die" by both A.C.Graylin (Philosopher, Londong and Oxford) and Gavin Schmidt (Climatologist, NASA) in the equally titled book edited by John Brockman.


Unfortunately, the simplification trend has also taken over in management. Part of the problem are common misunderstandings and mix-ups of topics and terminologies.

1. How to look at a problem? An overly simplification of a complex problem simply narrows the view, such as looking only at the organigram (i.e. only one page!), when trying to solve an organizational problem. A narrow view might increase the feeling of confidence to be able to solve issues quickly, but this approach does not render valuable in the longrun. 

2. Simple communication about a complex topic versus simplification of the topic itself: A very common misunderstanding is about communication. There is the need to communicate in large organizations and managers need to bring "the point" across. However, tailoring the communication and making it simple to understand must not lead to an undue simplification of the original complex cause.This would typically end up in a situation described under point 1. 

3. "Don't make it so complicated!": The third trap managers tend to fall into is, when they mix up "complicated" and "complex". The phrase "Don't make it so complicated!" often means processes, procedures or a communication measure. However, used unreflectingly, one might come to overly simplifying the root cause - ending up in trap number 1.

There is a lot to say about managing complex questions in management. These 3 points might help to keep the right perspective and take the right approach to managing complexity, namely differentiating between how to look at problems and steer the problem solving (i.e. accept complexity and handle appropriately) versus how to manage processes and communication (i.e. look for a sound, robust and comprehensible approach people can relate to). 




Brockman, John (Ed.): "This Idea Must Die. Scientific Theories that are blocking progress.", HarperCollins, New York, 2015

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