Complexity escape routes and listening to learn

I was teaching the workshop on complexity this week, an outgrowth of my Adventures In Complexity slides. One of the interesting ideas that I was emphasizing during the workshop was this notion that we humans tend to be rather uncomfortable in Complex space. We traced the two intuitive pathways out of this space as escaping to Complicated and escaping to Chaotic.

We escape to Complicated space through insufficient framing: converting a complex phenomenon into a “problem to be solved” as quickly as we possibly can. We escape to Chaotic space by escalating: instead of viewing a complex phenomenon as a problem to be solved, we choose to view it as a threat. This particular kind of escape is just as tempting as the first one — and perhaps even more. How many difficult conversations did we turn into stupid, ultimately losing fights? How many emergencies did we create just to avoid sitting with the discomfort of complexity?

But the most interesting insight came when I was sharing some of my favorite tools from my complexity toolkit. I learned the Listening to Learn framework from Jennifer Garvey Berger and used it many times before this workshop. However, talking about the escape routes right next to it connected them in a novel way.

It seems that Listening to Win is closely correlated with the way we escape complexity by shifting to Chaotic space. “Winning” here is very much a confrontation with a distinct intent of containing a threat. In the same vein, Listening to Fix is a shoe-in for the steps we take to escape over to Complicated space: framing-shmaming, let’s fix this thing! It is the third way of listening, the eponymous Listening to Learn is what encourages us to hold complexity and resist taking the escape routes. I was surprised and delighted to make this connection and can’t wait to incorporate it into my next workshop. 

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