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The Complexity Equation

Mark Crocker - October 1, 2019 - 0 comments

Charles Dickens in the 1830’s wrote that he lived in an age of “unrelenting change and unpredictability” so I wonder what he would make of our current scenario where change and more importantly, complexity, seems to be taken to ever higher levels.

In our daily lives the advance of technology and the demands on our time and the opportunities presented require significant discipline to just make it from one month to the next. The barrage of multi-media confronting us every minute has our brains working ever harder to keep up. As leaders, managing complexity is very much a critical role that we need to perform.

Interestingly there are physical limitations and ramifications that we need to deal with here. Our brain has an almost incomprehensible amount of data that it needs to process – those trillions of cells are being asked to work ever harder with telephone, email, mobile devices and a constant stream of decisions that need to be made. The frontal lobes of our brain are the areas where this decision making takes place and as long as they stay in control and can process all this data effectively then we are able to function appropriately.

Yet just below our frontal lobes lurks the area of the brain concerned with survival. These areas govern our primitive functions – sleep, hunger, breathing, heart rate and so on. When our frontal lobes are coping with the data presented these areas send positive messages – excitement, motivation, satisfaction. However, upon your fifth interruption, 10th phone call or umpteenth search for some missing information your brain begins to panic and these areas below your frontal lobes start to send a different type of message.

In primitive terms these areas may as well assume that you are being stalked by some ferocious predator – it determines your inability to process the data as fear – hence the rapid transition to survival mode. Now, if you were being hunted by a predator, survival mode is exactly what you want but in our working life where the job is becoming a little overwhelming you could do with some clarity of thought to handle the complexity. But those frontal lobes are trained not to ignore the panic signals and your brain starts to lose its ability to think clearly.

This also manifests itself in physical symptoms – raised blood pressure, raised heartbeat, irritation, distraction to name just a few. To help your frontal lobes stay in control, you need to break up complex tasks into smaller ones, don’t allow yourself to be sucked into a maelstrom of emails and telephone calls, attend to critical tasks and prioritize.

Make lists, file ruthlessly, keep your desk tidy and manage meetings well……

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