Are You Falling Into the Simplexity Trap? - Michelle Gibbings

Are You Falling Into the Simplexity Trap?

In the 2024 Accenture Life Trends report, they report that more than 40 per cent of frequent technology users said that technology has complicated their lives.

In response, consumers are doing such things as setting screen time limits, blocking notifications and removing apps.

It’s a great reminder that we crave simplicity. While our brain can do amazing things, it can only handle so much data and detail at any one time, and when things feel too complex, we can become overwhelmed. This cognitive overload impacts our working memory and can lead us to make bad decisions.

The challenge we face is that we are heading into even more complexity.

Futurist Amy Webb, in her 2024 presentation at the SXSW Conference talked about how we have entered an economic super-cycle.

An economic super-cycle, according to Amy Webb, is “an extended period of booming demand, elevating the prices of commodities and assets to unprecedented heights. It stretches across years, even decades, and is driven by substantial and sustained structural changes in the economy”.

In the past, these super-cycles were driven by a single technology. What’s different today is that three converging pieces of technology are driving this cycle. As Webb outlines in the Future Trends Report AI, biotechnology, and wearable devices are converging in a way that will redefine many aspects of life and work.

It’s complex; just accept it
How this all plays out and what it means for all of us is not yet clear, and that means we need to get comfortable with constant uncertainty.

Getting comfortable isn’t the same as being complacent—quite the contrary. To thrive as a leader and help your team members do likewise, you want to be strategic.

The first critical step is to accept that uncertainty is a part of life in a complex world. While you may not like it, uncertainty often leads to growth and new opportunities.

Avoid the Simplexity Paradox
Is your desire for simplicity paradoxically increasing the complexity you are dealing with?

This is what I call the dangers of simplexity. In your drive or desire for a solution to a complex matter, you go to what’s simple to understand, access or execute.

Finding a solution quickly feels good, comforting even. However, seeking a quick fix to a complex issue does not resolve it. In fact, it often worsens the situation.

Find the Root Cause
Depending on the situation, you should take time to investigate the root cause of the issue. That is, dig deep to truly uncover what’s going on and the best path forward.

Root Cause Analysis is a systematic process for identifying the origin of problems or faults and determining an approach to prevent them from recurring. It often involves the following steps:

  1. Identify and define the problem – get specific and describe the problem in terms of what is happening, where, when, and its impact.
  2. Collect data – gather detailed information about the problem and its context. For example, discover when it occurs, who or what is involved, and any patterns or trends.
  3. Identify possible causes – tools like the “5 Whys” technique or Cause-and-Effect diagrams can be helpful here.
  4. Determine the root cause – analyse the identified causes to determine which ones, if removed or changed, would prevent the problem from occurring. You will want to test each potential cause against the problem description and data to check any assumptions and decisions.
  5. Implement solutions – develop and implement solutions such as changes to processes, systems, or behaviours.
  6. Monitor results – after implementation, monitor the situation to ensure the problem does not recur.

Use Probabilistic Thinking
Instead of seeking absolute certainty, consider the probabilities of different outcomes. Sometimes, in complex situations, you will only have some of the data. There will be unknowns.

Examining impacts and outcomes in terms of probabilities and likelihoods can help you make informed decisions in the face of uncertainty.

For example, you could plan for different scenarios. When you do this, you consider various possible outcomes and what could happen if they unfold a certain way. Using that information and understanding, you can better put plans and mitigation strategies in place.

Give Yourself Time
Stay present and focused, and give yourself time to investigate, reflect and resolve.

Breaking down complex problems into smaller, manageable parts can help you understand the overall situation and find solutions.

As part of this, you will want to recognise what information you need to consider and what data adds no value to the investigation.

We live in a world with way too much information. As this article in The Age reminds us, the volume of reports and material produced is unprecedented. Sadly, that is not helping us make better decisions.

Ditch Assumptions and Stay Flexible
As you navigate the unfolding complexity and rising uncertainty, be open to change and willing to adapt your plans or strategies as circumstances evolve.

Flexibility can help you navigate uncertain situations and support your team in doing the same.

You will also want to consult with others who have different viewpoints or experiences. They can provide valuable insights and help you see the situation from multiple perspectives.

As well, remember that while making decisions based on facts and data is important, don’t ignore your gut feelings. Your intuition can often guide you when dealing with complex and uncertain situations.

Keep Learning
Lastly, and most importantly, never stop learning.

Your brain adapts and learns from mistakes. Scientists have even built a mathematical model of how the brain plans and learns when faced with complex decision-making dilemmas. If you want more check out this article from the University of Cambridge.

So the question to ponder today is what decision do you need to devote more time to so you don’t fall into the simplexity trap?

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