Tolerate Complexity

People like simplicity. They don’t like it when things get complicated. But they also often make the mistake of confusing complexity with complicated. defines complex as ‘composed of many interconnected parts; compound; composite.’ It defines complicated as ‘composed of elaborately interconnected parts; complex: complicated apparatus for measuring brain functions’ OR ‘difficult to analyse, understand, explain etc’

Complex does not mean hard or difficult, it means something has many moving parts. The ability to tolerate complexity is one of the key skills that support creativity. This, therefore, does not mean that you must be a genius to solve all the complicated inter-relations. Rather, it means that you have to improve your ability to keep all the various moving parts in mind, to keep seeing them and the big picture and their potential relationships.

Why is this?

The easiest answer is that creativity can take time. Time to sift through the layers of potential new connections, to explore their implications and directions. It takes time to see all the potential connections, evaluate them and decide which ones are worth pursuing and which not.

For people used to Yes or NO answers and black and white worlds, this state of complexity can be overwhelming and lead to a sense of confusion and loss. It can feel like something has gone wrong because there is no easy, binary choice between only two options. Instead, there looms a range of potential answers, a lot of them obviously desirable, some less so.

In business, a tolerance for complexity is of massive importance. Daily, people are faced with a web of interconnected events that need to be interpreted and understood. And yet, all too often, companies and managers prefer simplistic, YES or NO answers, and again, binary solutions.

By tolerating complexity, what the creative mind can do, is juggle that grey area where there seem to be no clear answers for long enough for a deeper or more far-reaching analysis to take place and then to see connections that were not at first apparent.

Creative acts are all too often nothing more than joining together existing components in previously unimagined ways. This is a far from complicated idea. But the process almost inevitably involved complexity.

You encounter complexity almost every day. You need to learn to not see a complex situation as final, as failure or as unhelpful. Instead, you need to embrace it. For in its parts are the answers you seek.

How to Learn To Tolerate Complexity
1. Exercise Patience
Control your need for instant gratification. Allow a complex answer to sit with you for a while. It takes time to see the paths.

2. Suspend judgement
Our societal addiction to quick fixes means that we quickly need to decide if something is good or bad, useful or not. Resist this rush to judgement. Give yourself time to actually think things through instead of reacting with ready-made stereotypes

3. Say it’s easy
Remember complex is different to complicated. Just because a situation has many aspects does not mean it is hard to understand or to deal with. Stop scaring yourself with complicatedness and just slowly work through the complexity.

It will take you time to overcome the powerful conditioning we all have to use our pre-established patterns and judgements to seek Black and White answers to everything. Slow down, engage your rational mind and work your way through all the parts looking for connections. They will be there, and your solutions will get better and more useful as you go.

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