Managing Complexity


In complex situations, we have the choice to focus on what is common in an issue, and on what is different. This can take two different shapes:

Focus on differences:

  • Self-expression: Seeking self-realization by developing and expressing one’s unique and pure authenticity; aiming to distinguish and excel in order to achieve something better than is available now, or
  • Polarization: Magnifying differences and classifying them as better versus worse; focusing on winning the debate in order to pursue one’s own predefined ideas.

Focus on what is common:

  • Appreciative understanding: Suspending judgement and prejudice and listen openly with the aim to truly understand the other in order to discover common ground and expand it by embracing differences, or
  • Enforced unification: Forcing unity, orchestrating, centralizing and standardizing; applying power to suppress differences and bring into conformity.

In complex situations, when we focus on differences through polarization and on what is common through enforced unification, we tend to create degenerative solutions, with outcomes that are characterised by resistance, conformism or subjugation, compromise, or divorce. This often leads to outcomes that are a far cry from what could have been achieved if the collective creative potential would have been brought to expression.

On the other hand, when we focus on differences through self-expression and on what is common through appreciative understanding, we tend to create generative solutions, characterised by integration, creation and innovation. In support of a common purpose, we tap into the collective wisdom of the group and the collective potential is brought to full expression. Because energy and enthusiasm are by-products of such creative processes, we tend to follow-through and sustainably implement the ideas.