Thinking about Complexity

I’ve been reading on my sabbatical. Of all the books on my list, I choose to start with this one – Simple Habits for Complex Times. The simple premise of the book is that we are living in a new world where volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity are on the rise and we need to develop a new mindset for leading. The authors, two consultants from New Zealand, offer three habits for developing this new pattern of thinking and acting: talk differently, gather information differently, and build strategies and plans differently. (If you want to see a short video on the book, check out this out.)

But this blog isn’t an ad for this book. This post is about mindsets. A mindset, or frame, is a set of ideas or beliefs that form a lens that enables one to see and understand what is going on in a situation. So I ask: What mindset frames your view of ministry? Not sure? Try this. Pay attention to the questions you ask. Over the course of a week, write down the questions you ask about the ministry situations you encounter. Then step back and reflect on what those questions say about your current view of ministry. Part of a team? Then do this exercise together, sharing your reflections at the end and trying to get a sense of the similarities and differences each of you bring. Once you have done that, create a 2×2 matrix to see if your mindset is more opened or closed. Label the first row narrowing and the second row opening. Label the left column threat and the right column opportunity.

So, what did you discover? Living well in a complex world requires a shift in mindset from one where probability was the norm to one where possibilities are the norm. Leading with a possibilities mindset means being open to opportunities and other ways of understanding. If you want to practice being more open, one skill to develop is asking different questions. Here are some to get you started:

  • When faced with a complex problem practice using “and” (rather than “or” or “but”). Using “and” doesn’t close down options or narrow choices prematurely. “And” lets ideas build on each other, creates a relationship between ideas that might be in tension with each other, and invites collaboration.
  • Are the questions you ask taking time into account? Time offers perspective, brings forth realities, and opens up new possibilities. Asking questions about the past, present, and future is all worthwhile.
  • Do your questions come with a genuine curiosity? Asking questions, or getting feedback, to confirm what we already know is a waste of energy. On the other hand, asking questions with a posture of deep interest and openness to be impacted by the response is really valuable. What to do with the answers/feedback is the second part of the process, but being open begins with reflecting on our own attitudes.