The people component in complex problems

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Why do you think complex problems are complex?

Are there common factors underlying the complexities?

I am thinking of fundamental human behaviours like unclear thinking, faulty logic, black and white thinking, catastrophisation etc. What are the root causes of the complexity?

I am increasingly of the opinion that complex problems must contain an inevitable subset of people problems. As we peel away the layers of a complex problem, starting from the technical/factual aspects, we find at its core, people problems.

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Purely technical problems are relatively straightforward to sort: Extinction-event asteroid coming? We send missiles to blow it up. Fixed.

But it all grinds down to a sticky pace when we mix in the human factors: Oh wait, we can’t let other countries know how many missiles we have, or that we are not supposed to have. Besides, why should we shoulder more of the costs when they have more mouths to feed, and they snubbed us last time when they… etc. I am reminded of the republic senate’s inefficiency in responding to just about any problem in the Star Wars series.

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(Image from FuriousFanboys.com)

In problem identification and resolution, we need to shine more light on the soft but messy issues like emotions, grudges, motives, jealousies, attitudes, beliefs, relationship styles and cultures. If we don’t address these, we are probably only attempting symptomatic fixes.

Few complex situations seem to consist of purely technical/factual problems. Sustainable change must hook into changes in attitudes, beliefs and a development of emotional intelligence.

(Not forgetting that complex problems are made worse by layering processes, rules and bureaucracies on top, all of which are not really (and probably can’t be) designed to work as coherent wholes.)

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