Complex problems. In this post, I’m going to share three personal stories that shape what I’m now. I’m a human with flaws, but I believe that I’ve learned (the hard way) to resolve complex problems. The most complex problems that I know are always related to people and teams.
It’s 11:00 Am in a standard classroom more than 30 years ago. It’s a biology class, and the majority of the class is more busy with who has crashed on who, a regular point of interest for intermediate school students.
The professor (who clearly prefer to be in a different place both physically and in his life journey) asks the class why birds migrate? After hearing several answers about the need for survival, he directly asks the question one of the students.
The surprised students answer without thinking twice. They are migrating to keep nature working. They had a contribution to the ecosystem in one part of the world, and now they have to contribute to another ecosystem in the other part of the world.
One of the class jokers calls the guy a name and most of the class start to laugh and throw comments. The professor looks at the student with shocking eyes, he didn’t say a word for eternity. When the professor opens his mouth, the speakers announce with a monotonic sound that the class is over.
All the student rush out while contributing more insults to the crazy student. The professor approaches him and asks: how did you think about this answer? Although the student want’s to join his classmates, he knows the attitude that he is going to get, so he is engaging in discussion with the professor.
This student is me. This is the price that I paid many years for thinking differently, and that is a mild story 🙂 It took me many years to understand that thinking differently is one of the best gifts that I got, but there are many scars to remind me the journey.
I think that I always had a natural interest in complexity. Simple math issues or how atoms are working didn’t make any impression on me. How’s nature is working, with its endless complexity, occupied me most of the time.
I developed a passion for biology ( which is funny that my youngest son simply hates it), and that was my primary focus at high school. One of the class was a field observation of an ecosystem. In this class, you had to be one day a month in an ecosystem of your choice, to observe it and finally compile a report on your finding.
So, once a month I took the bus equipped with a camera (that is where my passion for photography was born), notepads, water, and enough food. I chose the sweet water pools by the sea that were used for growing fish. Those pools were an attraction to migrating birds, and they had quite a lot of permanent habitats as well.
Equipped with what I need, I used to leave the bus just before sunrise and catch it back home just after sunset. Inbetween sunset and sunrise I spend watching nature and taking notes. A lot of time to be by yourself, well you already know that that wasn’t something new for me :-).
If you have to spend one day in nature, you want to take advantage of it. You want to make sure you’ll see all the life nature, nesting, offsprings, etc.
Observing nature thought me a lot, but one of the main lessons was that humans learn how to resolve simple problems. When it comes to complexity, simple logic and math are not of any help. All my attempts to calculate when to see what, where a total failure.
I always had surprises. There’s probably something else that can be of help to figure out complexity I thought to myself. In those days I didn’t have a clue what it is. I just understood that people are using what they know to resolve problems, even if they are using the wrong tool.
I remember my self asking more than once if the absolute and accurate science (math, physics, chemistry) can’t be used to resolve complex problems such as predicting what will be the weather, who said that they are accurate at all.
Smarter people than me start to find the solutions for those questions more or less in the days that I watch the birds and nature. I took me 30 more years from those days to find out the solution.
I was a hard worker, doer, an achiever and bold. so, I was promoted to lead a team. I really feel sorry for every person that wan on the first team that I manage. If I could, I would apologize to each one of them. Luckily it’s not too many people.
No one teaches you or prepares you to lead other people, so what guide you is what you saw so far in the working place. I was sure that people (including me) are clogs in a system that needs to be perfected all the time. I was also convinced that each person on earth is like me (except the thinking part, that I already know that I’m the weirdo).
I was a command and control freak that couldn’t let other people do their work if I thought that they are going to impact my commitments to others. Obviously, I didn’t even bother to ask them about their point of view. I just gave them instructions and a red face every time that something wasn’t going right.
You know how this story ended. The project failed, and I failed. But there where good people there to open my eyes and show me that you can achieve much better results if you understand that people and teams are the oxygen and blood of any company.
It took me many years to learn more about people, their worldviews, personalities, emotional intelligence and all the other essential knowledge and experience that required to motivate people and make the impossible possible. It all started with a failure! A big hairy failure that thought me a lesson for life.
How they can help you and me?
Complexity still is my passion and I found out that the most complex problems that exist are with people and groups. To create big groups and motivate them to achieve the unachievable is one of the unsolved problems in the universe. If it worked once, it doesn’t guarantee that it will work again.
To resolve complex problems you need to think differently than the thought process and the mental models that used to create the problem. Regretfully I found out that few people have this ability.
Any problem has at least one root cause, and any problem with identify root cause can be resolved with a solution. But, without understanding people and groups, no solution is guaranteed to be successful.
I learned the hard way better ways to deal with complexity, and I’m still learning every day. Do you want to join my journey?