It’s complicated.

21st July 2014 Blog

At OSCA we’ve been renewing our thinking on a series of related ideas around complex thought, wicked issues and problem-solving that have influenced our work for some time. This post shares some of that new thinking.

The usual breakdown in this area goes something like this:

1. Life grows daily more complex, uncertain and changeable
2. We don’t deal with this all that well
3. We need to do it better

There are many and varied sources saying this sort of thing, but this one is neat, well-written and fairly short.

Wicked issues are a development of this kind of thinking. Here’s a Guardian blog explaining them.

Both an increasingly complex and uncertain world and “wickedness” contribute to making things tricky for traditional kinds of problem-solving that break down an issue into constituent parts, look for root causes and seek to tackle them.

Wicked issues aren’t separable in this kind of way. The kind of coaching and training that we do at OSCA is based on this insight.

We think that perhaps this kind of solutions-focused thinking is misconceived. We may need to move towards a more difficult, perhaps less instinctively satisfying way of thinking about these kinds of questions, something perhaps like French philosopher Edgar Morin’s Complex Thought.

Morin wants to resist the temptation to reduce problems and by doing so “mutilate” them. He speaks from experience. His philosophy owes much to his post-war experience as a Jewish resistance fighter in Germany. Roberto Rossellini borrowed the title for his ‘Germany Year Zero’ from Morin.

There are few more visceral and painful illustrations of the hopelessness of simple solutions than that film.

There are less grimly realist places to turn for the same argument. Alan Watts put it beautifully in The Book, bagging one of the best and most succinct titles on Amazon while he was about it.

What does this complex thought mean in practice? Morin is not just a philosopher; he applies his thinking. Here he is recommending concrete changes in education for a Unesco paper in 1999. This will sound familiar to anyone interested in educational innovation. Morin’s influence is surprisingly pervasive.

And how might you go about doing complex thinking yourself? Well, you could daydream, or you could consider joining us for an open training on 22 October 2014. We’d love to see you.


Image courtesy of Wired from an article entitled, ‘Pentagon’s Craziest PowerPoint Slide Revealed’ 13/09/2010