Sunday, May 02, 2010

It’s Complicated: Making Sense of Complexity

 AS WENT THE ROMANS? Thomas Cole’s “Course of Empire: Destruction.”

The increasing speed of complexity in terms of knowledge is exciting in my field, but in terms of the beaurocracy of U.S. health care is counter productive...

Ladies and gentlemen, the state of our union is stumped.
Christoph Niemann

The Great Recession and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, arguably the toughest problems we’ve confronted in decades, are nothing if not spectacularly complicated. Trying to size up these puzzles is like gaping at a homemade contraption that has mysteriously evolved into something even its designers can no longer fathom, let alone operate and dismantle. Is there an owner’s manual for this thing? Can it be unplugged? If we figure out where it’s getting fuel, can we starve it and hope it expires?
Look at the military’s PowerPoint slide of the Afghanistan war, a labyrinth of cross-thatching lines and arrows swirling around words like INSURGENTS and COALITION CAPACITY & PRIORITIES. (Please click on the link for the powerpoint slide--uvealblues)
“When we understand this slide,” said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who leads the American effort in Afghanistan, “we’ll have won the war.”
You sense that the march toward complexity has turned into a sprint in the debate about health care reform and even the gargantuan oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, challenges so baroque, and with so many disparate and moving parts, the best you can do is hope that someone in charge understands them. Complexity used to signify progress — it was the frisson of a new gadget, the riddle of some advance in technology. Now complexity lurks behind the most expensive and intractable issues of our age. It’s the pet that grew fangs and started eating the furniture.
Of course, a nagging sense of incomprehension is a perennial feature of the human experience.

“Complexity creeps up on you,” he said in an interview. “It grows in ways, each of which seems reasonable at the time. It seemed reasonable at the time that we went into Afghanistan. It’s the cumulative costs that makes a society insolvent. Everything the Roman emperors did was a reasonable response in the situation that they found themselves in. It was the cumulative impact that did them in.”

Which gets to the worrisome part of the complexity of problems we face today. Instead of improving our lives, it’s vexing them.
What we need, suggests Brenda Zimmerman, a professor at Schulich School of Business in Ontario, is a distinction between the complicated and the complex.
“We get seduced by the complicated in Western society,” Ms. Zimmerman says. “We’re in awe of it and we pull away from the duty to ask simple questions, which we do whenever we deal with matters that are complex.”

via Simoleon Sense

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails