“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.” H.L. Mencken
At Wasafiri we are interested in how you make change happen in complex systems. So far we have yet to find any simple answers, but we have found a lot of complex ones. So for this play list, I have brought together an odd selection of people who argue that we need to embrace complexity, confusion and ambiguity in our thinking and give up any idea that we understand what is going on. For, if we’re going to find solutions to some of the complex problems we currently face – be they the productivity of agricultural systems across Africa, climate change or long term conflicts – then we will need to be able to think and work within the complexity we live.
Eric Berlow – Gives us a surprisingly simple (well sort of) summary of complexity and opportunities for drawing out important insights (and there are some reassuringly complex graphics)
In this talk Tim Harford, an economist and journalist, connects the dots between the second world war, Marmite, manufacturing detergent and a Japanese mathematician, to argue for the importance of trial and error and that we give up ‘having the answer’ (he also shows that economists aren’t quite as funny as they think they are!).
Moaning about PowerPoint must be one of the most shared human activities. This article argues that it is not just boredom that PowerPoint risks imposing on us but, potentially, it erodes our very ability to think! A little extreme perhaps, but still a call to avoid the overly rigid application of bullet points and logic of simple cause and effect.
Part of the reason that complexity is so hard and simplicity so appealing, is to do with the way our brains work and the ways we like to think. Daniel Kahneman has won the Noble Prize for basically telling us that we don’t know what we are doing, or why we do it. In this short radio interview he shows how much context informs our thinking and the many ways we avoid ambiguity. Unfortunately, complexity is full of ambiguities.