…complexity and equality…

“Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it.” — Alan Perlis

Here are two ideas I find myself coming back to: 

  1. That ego-informed resistance bends itself, by its own desire, into something healthy and mobile; that is, ego-informed resistance can willingly restore mobility through integration, and
  2. That ego-informed attachment gives itself to ‘Mama’ as ‘the deal’ we make with ourselves; that is, we create our own version of reciprocal engagement by placing trust where ever we choose.

(You can find first idea in …resistance and integration…, and the second  in …reciprocal engagement…). 

Part of me wonders if I’m hopelessly naïve and idealistic. 

We’ve all met people who are determined to be their own worst enemies, or still others who are completely enmeshed in the power that they wield – so much so that the tyranny of control is the only means for ‘legitimizing’ trust and engagement.   For these people, resistance isn’t just ego-informed, it thoroughly transforms the nature and value of relationship – making it a self-perpetuating reflection of everything they hold near and dear.

Let me give you an example: 

Jack is the CEO for a large company.  As he worked his way up, Jack held a begrudging respect for those higher up, tempered only by his desire to beat them at their own game.  For Jack, competition wasn’t just the arena for doing business, it was the only way that he could measure his own self-worth.  And what determined the value of any given situation, was Jack’s proximity to the ‘winning’ strategy; no matter what it cost him in terms of personal relationships. 

Jack discovered early on that he could reinforce everything he held near and dear, by always defining in advance the final state that he wanted to realize.  From this perspective, anything that wasn’t critical to winning and success was simply a secondary variable.  Life, in many ways, was really quite  easy:  Jack maintained control over his subordinates by controlling the definition of success,  he was seen as valuable to the company because he continually came up with winning strategies, and while no one really loved him, they feared and respected him — which confirmed for Jack the value he saw in himself.  A worthy person is one who is both feared and respected.  

We will come back to Jack in a bit.

How naïve can I be?  What could persuade an individual, in the thrall of their self-aggrandizing perspectives, to willingly place themselves on equal terms with others?  Why would any one intentionally want to  do that?   What could be the impetus for such a change?

Complexity.  So long as Jack’s simplified view of reality works, there would seem to be little that could force Jack’s hand.  But the story continues.

Jack never saw it coming.  After orchestrating the take over of another company, Jack’s board of directors realized that the company was moving in a direction that was inconsistent with the industry as a whole.  To provide greater flexibility to consumers and suppliers, management layers needed to be reduced, and everyone on the board understood Jack’s method of operation.  This type of change was simply not something that Jack could pull off.  They elected to replace him at the end of his contract term.  Jack still had all his skills, but without a place to prove them he was rapidly becoming more dependent on others to give him some way to bolster his self-esteem.  The transition period for Jack was hard.  In a sense he was re-learning a set of values that he had discarded a long time ago.  But the challenge of complexity required him to look past his simplified perspective.  Not everything is better simply because he succeeded.  He came to realize that the more balanced perspective is generally the more complex one.  Simplicity could be a benefit, but only with the right set of conditions.  Being big enough to balance a conflicting set of needs does slow things down.  But the results are somehow better.

There is a trade-off between complexity and simplicity.  Simplicity always narrows the range of impact and fine tunes it; complexity always broadens the range of impact and makes it more inclusive.

While it is true that: “Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it.” The only way to be equal with others is to embrace it.  The empathetic reach of genuine equality is the most complex position of all.

Thanks for listening!

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