The work that I specialize in is figuring out viable solutions to complex, messy and challenging projects. It is intense and it is consuming. There are also numerous pitfalls to doing it well. You try to create clarity around something that is inherently unclear. You also need to avoid making it too simple, where simple answers become tempting and potentially create further challenges. Doing this work is as much art as it is science.
Most of us are not fans of complexity. We may like to tackle difficult challenges as part of our work. But the closer that complexity comes to home, the less comfortable and confident that we feel. The natural reaction to that is to exert control. We try to impose structure and manage work and force our way through to the finish line. Research and experience have shown—time and time again—that this is more often than not a recipe for failure. That is not to say that there aren’t strategies to navigate complexity. They are just different than our normal impulses suggest.
I wrote about liminality a couple of years ago, as a framework for thinking about change and transition. I was in my own period of in-between at the time, and it writing it has helpful for me, and arguably resonated for many others. The thing about liminal transitions is that typically it’s personal or organizational. Today, it is societal. We are all going through the same transition, together, at the same time. That can be a bit daunting.
Change is a process. And while it is a difficult one, it doesn’t need to be quite so painful and messy as what we often experience. Better navigating change requires recognizing that most of the transition happens in the space between what was and what will become. We need to let go, and be guided through that transition. That requires rethinking some of what we know and believe about projects and change.
How we deal with complex problems is challenging. Our minds evolved to take shortcuts and make things easy. There is a lot of danger in doing so when we confront truly difficult situations. We need to find simple—but not simplistic—ways of communicating complex and complicated relationships and information.
We have a deeply ambivalent relationship with uncertainty. In part, we are hard-wired to like clarity, and black-and-white world-views are as tempting as they are dangerous. So when we are faced with situations where there are no clear answers or easy choices, we find ourselves squirming in acute discomfort.