The Other Side of Complexity

Oliver Wendell Homes once remarked that he placed little value on simplicity that lay on this side of complexity but a great deal of value on simplicity that lay on the other side. Put another way, there is a vast chasm between being simple and being simplistic. I would like to suggest something similar. I believe that in any activity there are many novices, a few experts, and very occasionally there is an extraordinary master. If you ask a novice about a topic, the novice will give you a very simple (simplistic) explanation that will be of little value. If you ask an expert the same question, the expert will give you a complex explanation that will also be of little value. If you ask a master the same question, the master’s explanation may be simple, breathtakingly elegant, and remarkably effective. But the master’s answer will only be valuable, breathtaking, and effective if you and I are ready to hear it and act on it.

The power of simplicity that comes from the other side of complexity can be most challenging. Indeed, the master’s explanation of the answer that he or she offers is often paradoxical and therefore difficult to understand. Once we grasp it, it may become revolutionary.

It is clear to me that masters perform differently. In the heat of the moment, they wait calmly. They seem to have unconditional confidence that they will react in a way that is not only appropriate but also highly effective. They have a minimum of performance anxiety. Masters know to trust their process. In the chaos of the moment masters see an underlying pattern and follow it. With minimum effort they shape the outcome. We watch the master’s performance and we marvel at the understanding, skill, and influence of this person. We envy the creative power and the revolutionary impact they can make on the world.”

Introduction to Change the World


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