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The complexity of the world around us has increased considerably. All of us not only cope with the immense complexity around us every day, but we thrive in it. We have developed sophisticated internal mechanisms to enable us to do so. However, when it comes to dealing with complexity in business context, very often we find ourselves using methods and vocabulary from the past. In this blog, I will explain three strategies that are crucial for dealing with complex problems. But first off, for the sake of common understanding let’s define what complex problems are. Complex problems are characterized by a large number of interacting variables and a large number of unknowns, and we cannot convert them into determinate problems in a feasible time frame. The three strategies that help us design our way out of complex problems are as follows:

Old management textbooks tell us that the first step to solving a problem is to ‘define’ it. But as we see from its definition, we cannot actually ‘define’ a complex problem. Instead, we ‘frame’ a workable problem out of a complex situation. One notable difference between framing and defining is that, unlike defining, framing has a personal angle to it, which means a designer or a team frame a problem based on their worldview, and there is no absolute right or wrong. The below video underlines the importance of framing in dealing with complex problems.

If the problem we are dealing with is really a complex problem, then an optimal solution is unlikely. An optimal solution is unlikely because we cannot completely understand the system. No matter how much data we collect, there will still be information gaps. So in order to forge ahead with developing a solution, we use our hunches and make assumptions. As an outcome, we do not seek an optimal solution, but we seek a better solution than the existing solutions.

Learn and Pivot
The lean start-up movement made the term, ‘Learn and Pivot’, a buzzword in business circles. It is definitely the way to go when developing new offerings. Interestingly, it is also the way to go when dealing with complex problems. In the video below, Dave Snowden explains how the appropriate approach for dealing with complex problems is ‘Probe-Sense-Respond’, which basically is another way of saying, ‘Learn and Pivot’. What ‘learn and pivot’ means for companies, in the context of dealing with complex problems is that, they should look at their offerings as an experiment to further their understanding of evolving customer needs and changing competitive environment.

The above three strategies clearly underline the significance of human thinking in dealing with complex problems. No doubt our computers are becoming smarter by day, but in the end, they are only meant to assist us. Our future, as ever, is in our hands!

What is your take on dealing with complex problems? What do you think about the strategies that I have identified? I would love to know your views.

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