Navigating complexity

Husband has always been a pretty deep thinker, and lately has been talking to me quite about about how he strives to teach his clients to navigate complexity in effective and healthy ways. He defines this as paying loving attention and using carefuly planned, organized strategies to solve problems.

Husband says that to do therapy well is to navigate complexity with loving attention. He says that we do this while cooking. He says that this also draws us to musical performance. Other would do the same by canoeing the Boundary Waters, flying an airplane, and leading a rock climbing expedition. The ways we have to navigate complexity in our every day lives are more subtle but equally as important.

What complex situations have you had to navigate? What have you seen others navigate? What are your hopes for how we and others shall navigate complexity in the future? How good are you at asking for directions?

29 thoughts on “Navigating complexity”

  1. First of all, you have to recognize the complexity to navigate it. In too many instances, I think, there are people who confront complex, multi-layered and provisional propositions as if they were black or white, either-or choices.

    The best and most abstract example I can recall of navigating complexity was when I was producing books for several clients. These were instructive how-to books with many photos, illustrations, charts and tables, some of them as long as 256 pages. The client would have a subject in mind and a schedule for completion but often little else. The schedule required I get started right away but I didn’t have any content yet. From a design perspective, these were very complex projects where ultimately all the pieces would have to fit together but at the outset all I had were 256 blank pages. How to begin?

    Some of my clients were experienced publishers but some were not. The inexperienced ones were often frozen at that blank page point. I would advise them that we had to work from the very general to the specific and that their first task should be to devise a rough table of contents with an estimate of how much space should be allocated for each section. Meanwhile I set about designing the look of the pages—the fonts we would use, the page margins, the column widths and so forth.

    Once the client had determined the content of the book, the writers and photographers could start their work and I could section the 256 pages into preliminary chapters. All of this would be subject to revision of course but at that point at least we had something concrete to respond to. Then as I began to get text and photos I could start to insert and adjust the real content. Because I had the whole book roughly allocated, It didn’t matter whether the content I received was contiguous with previous material. I had a place for it.

    The point of all this was that here was a project that was too big and complex to envision what it would become at the end. In many endeavors it helps to keep in mind that if you begin with the general outline, the specifics will come clear along the way. But you have to begin…

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I suppose that also holds true for people who have a house built for them: what they envision may not be possible from a building contractor ‘s reality.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Building a house is a really good example that I can easily relate to. I know what I’d like, and I know what my resources are, so my dream home, tucked into a beautiful hillside with an ocean view, isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

        Liked by 4 people

    2. I should have described my example as “concrete”. It was hardly abstract.

      Paraphrasing (from a distance of at least 40 years) Maxwell Maltz in his book Psycho Cybernetics, many problems present a daunting array of possibilities. It is only when we stop contemplating and take an action that the possibilities begin to narrow and we can see our way through. Or, to borrow a quote often ascribed to Goethe:

      Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it;
      Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

      Liked by 3 people

    3. Exactly. For me, that means I have to begin by writing something crappy, something wordy or pretentious or obscure . . . something that is wrong in the many ways writing can be wrong. And then you edit. And edit. And edit. “The specifics will come clear along the way.”

      Liked by 2 people

  2. It is also a trick to deal in therapy with a child whose parents are divorced and are still fighting with one another. You just can’t take sides, and that can be really complicated.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Hell, parents don’t have to be divorced to be fighting over how their children should be raised. I can only imagine how difficult your daily work is.

      Just the other day when husband and I were having yet another of our discussions about something we don’t agree on, the realization struck me: thank god we don’t have kids. We’d make a mess of it.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I had the friendliest divorce I’ve ever seen, but even it offered temptations to somehow use our kid to score points on the person divorcing me. Your forbearance (“you can’t take sides”) must be difficult at times and is unquestionably commendable.

      Liked by 4 people

  3. I’ve written several books. Some had obvious logical structure, so writing them was simply a matter of doing the work. Some did not. For me, the most complicated project was the history I wrote about my parents. The first challenge was to assemble and verify the most interesting stories arising from their lives. The second–and much harder–challenge was to decide which stories to include and which to leave on the cutting room floor.

    The only guidance I had was an interview I’d done years ago with Warren Nelson and his wife, Betty Ferris. They created the Big Top Chautauqua in Bayfield, Wisconsin. Their first shows were about local history. Writing those shows was difficult in exactly the same way it was difficult to write about my parents. Specifically, the problem was having too many good stories to tell, not knowing which were important to keep.

    Essentially, that is the challenge for any artist who tries to create something of value. You are always tempted to add another brush stroke to the painting, or throw in another song, or add another photo of someone whose story would add to the whole.

    Betty said, “You come to feel the people whose story you are telling are the best friends you have. They inspire you. And yet you know there are limits to the length of the show. So you struggle. And then, one day you know how it has to be. Something inside tells you what must stay and what must be let go.”

    I’ve never encountered a better description of the artistic process. At some point, you just know.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Husband is our friend W’s power of attorney, and has also been named his Fiduciary for the Veterans Administration. There are innumerable tasks associated with both of these the past few years around taxes and money management. I am so glad he’s on board to do all this.

    My complicated tasks are more in the realm of relationships with family or friends, and I notice that at times I’ll spend a surprising amount of my waking thoughts on how to navigate difficult situations with people.

    I am great at asking for directions.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I’ll ask directions, but only after I’ve tried several other roads and looked it up on Google Maps.
    Kelly and I have different views on that. I’m a visual person; I want to see the map; I want to know *why* we’re turning left here when it seems like we should just go straight? Sometimes the left is just to avoid a town and we’re going to pick up the same road further down. I hate backtracking.
    Kelly just follows the directions and sometimes I have to promise her that I will not question her; I will promise to just drive where she tells me.

    The reference about building a house is much like putting on a show; The directors or designers come in with big plans and the Technical director (or producer or whoever is in charge of this thing) has to say ‘We can’t afford that (or can’t build that) but we could do this version of that.’

    Liked by 3 people

  6. If possible, break down complex matters into smaller pieces.
    Puzzles. We all know the routine.
    Border first. Most easily identifiable center pcs. next.
    When the going gets tough, walk away for a bit but don’t give up.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Complexity reminds me of Ellen Goodman, a journalist and columnist who was active in the 1980s. She ultimately got tired of appearing on TV panels where she would get to speak about two sentences on a complicated topic. But she didn’t want to turn down offers to appear, so she found a way to get the show producers to leave her alone. When she got a new offer to be on a panel, Ellen would say, “Oh, gee, that’s a great topic. And so COMPLICATED! I’d love to be included.” The word “complicated” was all the producers needed to hear to know she wasn’t going to fit in the kind of superficial show they meant to create.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That reminds me of husband. I’d read a 300 page book trying to educate myself on something or another, or attend a two day seminar on a certain subject, and he’d expect a two minute synopsis to give him all the pertinent facts.

      Liked by 3 people

  8. Covid vaccination is complicated. Victims of government trials (Tuskegee) are hesitant. Many Trumpists are refusal so as to “own the libs”. Trumpists want XXXpresident Donny to get credit for vaccine they won’t take. I am a volunteer for Pfizer trials knowing from the beginning that success would accure to a man I detest. It’s complicated but my lifelong desire to help people overcame my partisanism.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. We are playing a very complicated piece in Bell Choir that goes back and forth between 7/8 and 4/4 time with multiple key changes and very syncopated rhythms and is played very fast. It is interesting to navigate.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We also have to alternate between ringing, malleting, and doing singing bells, which involves holding the bell in one hand and rubbing a stick around the rim the way you make a wine glass sing by rubbing the rim. It is a tricky piece.

      Liked by 3 people

  10. my formula for getting to the end result on a complicated multifaceted thing is to figure out what the desired outcome is going to be and then work backwards from the end until you get to the way to get there
    going from the beginning can lead you astray but going backwards from the successful finish seems to avoid a lot of unnecessary balderdash

    Liked by 3 people

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