I have become fixated on the phrase, “complex problems require complex solutions.” It has become my mantra. Many in our society have difficulty recognizing that the world is not a simple system. In turn, this binary thinking and looking for simple answers create our current dysfunctional state of being.
For those who do not know me, I used to be this type of thinker. Why are people poor? To me, it was apparent, they didn’t work hard, or they were lazy. I realize now that my whole worldview was one of simple right or wrong. My thinking changed about a decade ago for reasons that require much more elaboration than I have space for in this blog post. I now focus my thoughts on trying to figure out all of the complexities of a given problem. I could stop there and say, “thanks for reading,” but it was a conversation with a friend and colleague that has me refining my view of this idea of needing complex solutions.
I work with Jaclyn Hoskins (@JaclynSmith21), and many of our interactions take place through Voxer. She is a reflective educator, and she makes me think. People who make me think cause me to reflect on my own beliefs and attitudes. We all need these people in our lives. Last week, we discussed a recent education Facebook post. Jaclyn commented that the problem with the phrase (complex problems require complex solutions) is that it might make some people feel that there are issues that are too hard to solve and, in the end, might make people throw their hands up and surrender. I started to wonder if I was doing more harm than good by focusing on this mantra.
I continue to wholeheartedly believe that problems are complex, and they do require complex solutions, but here is my new thinking. We need to make the complexities visible by breaking them apart before seeking solutions. Offered solutions need to be broken down into manageable tasks to make changes that will positively impact the big problem.
How can we do this? For starters, we have to have some common agreement as to the nature of the problem. This requires that we talk with others about how they see the problem. We can’t be quick to jump to solutions until we understand the true nature and the impact of the problem. My matra assumes that everyone understands that issues are complex, which is a big assumption to make. Jacyln was getting me to rethink the emphasis that I was placing on the solution rather than the problem. Once you have an “agreement” on the issue, people can devise solutions that focus on the unique complexities. These individual solutions would then work in tandem to solve the overall big problem. Several smaller solutions seem much more manageable than one big complex solution. The goal is to solve that difficult problem, not overwhelm people into thinking that they can’t do anything about it because it is too complicated to grasp.
The million-dollar question is how we get people to see the problem as complex. The current division of our society makes this recognition of complexity difficult. Still, we have to continue engaging and encouraging people to dig deeper into the problems we are facing. Arrived at solutions will not be successful unless we truly know the nature of the problem. The best way to recognize this complexity is to get out of your bubble. Identifying and acknowledging complexity requires us to see the world from a variety of perspectives. I fight against this parochialism by following a variety of educators on Twitter and reading as much as possible.
This blog post was hard to write, and I am still not sure that I clearly outlined my thinking, but it has helped me solidify my new focus of understanding the complexity of the problem before coming up with solutions. Maybe my new mantra needs to be, “Effective solutions are only possible by understanding the complexity of problems.”