CN Executive Coaching Corner

Soul Searching on Life’s Complexities


Is the world more complex than ever? Some would argue so. Even in discussions that may outwardly appear to devolve to simple black & white issues, like the topic of “diversity,” much in the news today, the issue of it’s increasing complexitiessometimes dominates the discussion, and generates palpable frustrations.

A colleague recently asked for opinion on that directional measurement, almost a ‘wet finger in the air’ kind of query about which way the winds of complexity are blowing these days.

I had to stop to consider how to approach the question. In the end, there are only two ways you can measure most anything, by either the process or by the results. Measuring complexity may be no different.

Most of the responses my colleague received were focused on various process measures…how we get things done today compared to in the past. Some pointed to the comparative “how to” global areas of endeavor, like “Analytics,” New Technologies and Innovation, Connectivity, Sophisticated Design/Modeling Methodologies, Communication, Politics, Psychology…even down to one excellent micro-level question in response, ‘what are the tasks we must perform daily to get through a day to eat and to successfully procreate to survive compared to 2000 years ago?’ All of those excellent responses seemed to play to measuring the complexity of our life’s processes.

But is that really the way we should gauge it?

Whether it was a Queen Isabel sending Christopher Columbus to sail the ocean blue in 1492, or a President Kennedy launching Neil Armstrong beyond the blue skies to land on the moon, the complexity of the task is relative. Given the right training, men like Amerigo Vespucci or Christopher Columbus would likely be no less capable or courageous than Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin. Columbus in 1492 had the same human genetic capacity to deal with complexity as Armstrong did in 1969. What they both needed was a good ship and a star to steer by. The rest is detail.

But results are not relative.

Process complexities aside, the world has gotten no closer to global paradise as a result of the 1492 discoveries. What followed? Genocide on a continental scale. Jamestown Inception of American Slavery. Two World Wars and Continuous Conflict. The Spanish Influenza Pandemic. The Holocaust. Stalin’s Forced Famine. Much more. The world continued to march along a seemingly self-determined path, merely having more land space to work in.

Complexity aside, are we closer to paradise as a result of the 1961 Green Cheese Expedition? What followed? Global Terrorism. Endocrine Disruptors. Nuclear Sword of Damocles. International Economic Chaos. Endemic Rape & Sexual Assault. Oceanic Dead Zones. High Preventable Child Mortality Rates. Global Warming. Global Social Unrest. Clean Water Scarcity. South Central. Ferguson. Pandemics, and the topper, a historically unparalleled Endangered Species list that now includes man himself. Much more. Again, the world continued to march along a seemingly self-determined path, merely having more outer space to work in.

True, 2000 to 3000 years ago, perhaps taking care of the daily bread and raising a family were primary priorities, a simple life for the average person. Not so different for average folks today who just want to go to work, raise their family and have a few beers over the weekend.

But there were others who woke up among the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans back then and felt compelled to manage the complexities of the day, so they invented geometry, created democracy, and figured out the best ways they could to manage cultural diversity through consolidation of power (a.k.a., conquering the world). Ruling the known world wasn’t a noncomplex task, even back then. Somebody had to do it, and somebody has to do it today.

So, is the world more complex? I’d argue that the measurement of complexity should be viewed in the light of efficacy, i.e., results. In this respect, the world is very much like a glass that can be filled to the brim with milk. Pouring more milk into it will not make it more full to any greater extent than new processes and innovations make the world “more complex.”

Based on the clear results of human activity around the world, all the spilled milk of history, it appears that mankind exceeded it’s own capacity for dealing with complexity long ago, well before the 15th Century.  The deluge from the overflow went global at the start of World War I in 1914, 100 years ago.

In the end, when each of our lives are finished, when our respective generations have run their course, do we as a species appear to be in the habit of leaving behind a world that is fundamentally better than it was when we were born? Despite the promise of 20th Century innovation, we’re no closer to paradise, but instead, it appears, less likely than ever to achieve it through current and historical learning and governance processes of humankind.


Copyright © 2014, Robert D. Jones – All Rights Reserved

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