Have you ever said to yourself, "why can't life just be easy?" We typically operate in a mode of constant overload. So much competes for our attention across our career, family, children, relationships, social life, education, errands, household management, health, nutrition, wellbeing, working towards future aspirations, and so much more. All of this input makes each one of us a highly complex system, and for some, this overload is a consistent source of anxiety, stress, and confusion.

I recently started reading Shane Parish's new blog, Farnam Street. His entry summarizing Donald Norman's book, Living with Complexity, gave me an insightful new perspective on how to thrive as a complex system.

But first, for those unfamiliar with Canadian born Shane Parish, he is an absolute renaissance man. He's an author, coach for top-tier investors, podcast host, and even former spy. His blog is about strategies for rigorous self-improvement. Parish's approach is to introduce and expose his audience to different models of both thinking and behaving. He does this to help his followers develop a better understanding of the world around them, gather insights, improve themselves and their decision-making. I've worked his approach and now find that I couldn't agree more. So far, his insights have noticeable opened my eyes and way of thinking.

So back to the notion of "living with complexity"...

The exact opposite of complex is simple. Therefore is the apparent solution really just to simplify our lives and make them the least complex as possible? Not necessarily. How might we discern the value of matters in life that are more complex and multi-layered?

Norman makes the case that a quality life is complex, rich, and rewarding, but only if it is reasonable and meaningful. So, how can allocating more value to complexity positively impact and improve how entrepreneurs carry out their business decisions?

Change Your Attitude to Complexity

We must change our attitude to complexity. But how? According to Norman, we can do this by changing our conceptual model towards complexity. He says, "A conceptual model is the underlying belief structure held by a person about how something works." Furthermore, "Whether something is complicated is in the mind of the beholder."

Whoa! If we are struggling with our overloaded complicated lives, perhaps it is not simplicity that we need, but rather a reframing of our existing reality and circumstances. We each have agency in choosing our perception of complexity. Meaning, we can work to adapt and shift our mindset. Instead of being overwhelmed by the overload of inputs in our lives, we can learn to compartmentalize the various aspects of our life and see it as enriching and holistic.    

Norman shares an overarching law that governs complexity, "Complexity is like energy. It cannot be created or destroyed, only moved somewhere else."  

Norman's framing of complexity makes me imagine a counterbalance scale in continual motion pinging up and down, never finding full equilibrium between the left and right sides.

Often, the outcome of the law of complexity is that when you try to simplify one thing, it will automatically make something else more complicated.

Complexity and The Life of An Entrepreneur

As an entrepreneur, you are constantly managing numerous complexities. Do you spend time and money on talent recruitment, leaving little room in the budget or time for proof of concept (POC)? Do you take on a new project or client request, even when you don't have enough resources to recruit another developer? More so, as an entrepreneur, each decision has its trade-off costs, not necessarily in a financial sense, but rather a trade-off in terms of time or energy invested in otherwise cultivated relationships.

Simplifying our number of responsibilities is a choice of perception and how we store every task or thought in our mind. This concept is a skill worth mastering.

Next time you feel what's on your plate is too much to handle, remember that it's a matter of complexity rather than complication. Every complexity in life can be broken down into smaller, more digestible parts, in which you can find the smaller wins that constitute achievements.

Oct 3, 2020
by Gali Bloch Liran 

The Mental Model of Complexity and Why It Matters for Entrepreneurs

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