Actually, it’s not complicated

Most IT, HR, KM, etc. projects seem to assume the situation is complicated.

Complicated – relationship between cause & effect requires analysis, investigation, and expertise.
We should Sense – Analyze – Respond & we can apply good practices.

However, most projects involving people should assume they are complex.

Complex – relationship between cause & effect can only be perceived in retrospect.
We should Probe – Sense – Respond & we can test emergent practices.

So beware the cookie-cutter salespeople, as best practices do not help with complex problems. Most best practices are self-evident, whereas the problems that consume our time and efforts are usually complex. Instead of looking for best or good practices, we should take the time and money to invest in an experiment (a Probe).



In addition, if the project involves people, we also should look at what type of work they are doing. In all likelihood, it is customized work, because that’s the high value work today. This type of work is highly contextual and requires greater implicit knowledge, which is very difficult to codify and share. These workers will need to be actively engaged in a safe-fail experiment if you want to really understand the situation.

rp_complex-implicit-intangible.pngSo please tell me why you want to start the conversation about your new change project by looking at best practices and discussing case studies. Is your problem that simple? If so, you do not need me. Actually, you should be able to do it yourself or just buy the solution off the shelf. If you cannot do that, then perhaps you have a complex problem.

4 Responses to “Actually, it’s not complicated”

  1. Tom Sedge

    Our culture of solution-selling has a lot to answer for. It’s set the expectation that the world of complex people problems should have standard repeatable “fixes”. If you’re not selling a “fix” you often don’t get a look in.

    We’re people, not robots. Our only constants should be simple strong principles, weakly held and changing as we learn. Being human is about applying creative problem-solving to unique situations. All else is dull.

    • Harold

      Well it’s still a challenge trying to get this message to those making purchase decision. Risk-aversion is a prime culprit.

  2. Philip Sheldrake

    The future is complex, implicit and intangible. Love that way of putting it. I probably repeat it too much, but I have a real fond spot for HL Mencken’s saying: For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.

    I too have tried to explain the difference between complication and complexity recently, and thought you might like it ( You may also like this paper about effectively ‘nudging’ complex adaptive systems, and I’ll give it some thought as to how it compares with or complements your probe-sense-respond (


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