No matter where we work we come into contact with simple and complex problems. Simple problems can be comforting. Resolving the simple, routine problems we face makes us feel good. We feel smart because we know the answer. We’re making progress when we can check another problem off the to-do list. Accomplishment, even small victories, makes us feel good.
Yet, simple problems don’t have much to teach us. We’ve seen them before. We know what to do. We can even delegate them off our plate to clear the way for the big, difficult challenges.
Those big, hairy, wicked, complex messes are the tough ones.
Complex problems can be increasingly vague the more you uncover, full of variables and unknowns. The nature of problems is becoming overly burdensome, including providing resources for exponentially growing populations, managing international environmental impacts, and creating a secure global economic market. The difficulty in creating a solution may be high. Or the solution might seem simple but with drastic consequences for the wrong answer. Insights are impactful. There are no manuals or instructions.
The goals and plans for these problems are not only unclear; they are also interdependent. In the process of solving complex problems, the goal evolves as plans are generated. Similarly, as we get clear plans, new goals become possible which, in turn, may demand new even newer plans. The simple problems are like working softwood. Easy. Straightforward with the right tools. There is little to slow you down. Complex problems are like hardwood. You have to be careful. Thoughtful, with sharp tools, and a measure twice, cut once mentality.
The complexity we face across various sectors is similar in nature to those encountered by master craftsmen. The craftsmen interviewed for this piece, much like people in business, deal with ambiguity, uncertainty, difficulty, variation, surprise, choice, intricacy, elusiveness, indeterminacy, uniqueness and the above-mentioned interdependence between final goals and progressive plans.
Master woodturner Eric Hollenbeck reflects during an interview:
The Golden Gate Bridge never would have been built if people were only relying on methods that had been used to that period. The architect who designed it engineered a bridge he knew full well could not be built. But he had complete faith in the craftsmen of the time to get the job done.
And they did.
This sentiment describes the perseverance necessary to overcome what initially seem like insurmountable tasks toward overarching visions.
Watch the interview with Eric, it’s worth a listen.