Matthew T. Phillips

Complexity and simplicity

In Eric Berlow‘s TED Talk, “How complexity leads to simplicity,” he focuses on the difference between that which is complex and that which is complicated. The key insight is that the most critical observations and solutions typically require that focus be directed two to three degrees from the problem. Focus that is too tight, which is a common response when the complexity of broader observations is intimidating, makes it harder to see the answers.

In the process of ethical decision making, focus that is too tight also prevents us from seeing all the stakeholders. We don’t consider the effects of decisions on people if they fall outside our focus. Of course, drawing back to see more of the problem also means embracing complexity.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., said, “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” You can’t get to valuable simplicity without embracing a little complexity.