When we are faced with complex problems we can easily fall back on our past experience to find answers. It’s only natural, as we believe we have “seen this before”. However the nature of complex problems is that they do not lend themselves to being solved by “what has been done before”….. That is why they are complex. It is important to take time to consider what is really happening, to be sure that the problem we are seeing isn't a “symptom” of a deeper problem. Rushing in rashly to fix the “symptom” will not have any lasting effect. Although it may feel great to be doing something!
Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnson, in their book Simple Habits for Complex Times, offer insights for leaders as the world becomes more complex. Curiosity is key to being able to make sense of complex problems. Berger and Johnson recommend that you choose to adopt an open mindset, as our mindset determines our behavior, including what questions we ask. Bringing an open mindset allows you to explore risks and opportunities. Conversely, narrowing your mind to decide and to act quickly, to minimise risk and deliver quick wins, will be unlikely to bring forward innovative options.
Berger and Johnson also recommend that assumptions are tested often to avoid relying too much on past experience. Ask yourself:
"What do I believe? And how could I be wrong?"
In this way you can consider the problem from a systems perspective and gather qualitative and quantitative data to confirm – or otherwise – your assumptions. When looking at the evidence, consider what is happening at the “edge” – or outliers - as well as the norms. It is at the edge where there are likely to be new insights into contributing factors to complex problems.
We have real opportunities, in our data rich world, to look again at complex problems and develop truly innovative solutions based on evidence. Be curious ... look at what is happening at the edges.