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Bala Mookoni

Grasping Complexity

  • Oct 21 / 2013
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Grasping Complexity

Often, people who move up rapidly in their careers have displayed the ability to grasp complexity. Dealing with complex information or situations can be disconcerting. For the untrained, it even can cause disorientation. The ability to handle such information or trouble overload hinges on the following:

  • A mountain of patience
  • Micro-detailing
  • Ability to connect the dots

Complex issues need time and dedicated focus. Recognising this is a first step in building patience. The most skilful of the problem-solvers dovetail practice with theory. Often, theory is relegated to the background as bookish. But theory is the distilled essence of practice. The skill of the achievers lies in extrapolating it relevantly to the problem. This calls for micro-detailing. Collating information and drilling down to the first principles are the essential ingredients of this process. Often, reality can be diametrically opposite to what appears prima facie. Let’s take a few examples to understand this. A pump is pumping water through a water line whose cross-sections are of varying diameters. Most people, including many engineers, will tell you that the pressure is maximum when the water flows through a constriction in the pipe. But, if Bernoulli’s Theorem is applied the answer will be surprising. The water pressure is lowest at the constriction and highest at the widest diameter!

What happens if in an insulated room the door of the refrigerator is kept open? The room will become cooler, pat comes the common answer. A closer look at the laws of Thermodynamics will reveal that the room will actually become warmer. Most engineers think that distilled or demineralised water is not corrosive. The reality is pure water is actually “hungry” water and is more corrosive than water with moderate levels of dissolved solids. We can continue with more examples to reinforce the understanding. So, is it that common sense is wrong in these examples? It is not common sense that is actually wrong. The trained mind knows that all that glitters is not gold. To such developed minds, common sense will actually tell them not to jump to conclusions but to go deeper and plumb till the nadir.

Grasping complexity is not everyone’s cup of tea. It needs to be conscientiously developed over years. When that occurs, the experience is humbling. It reveals how often we could go wrong, even when we obstinately thought we were right. It teaches us to listen and to value everyone’s views. It makes us realise that there is always something to learn from anybody, from any situation. It makes us better leaders.

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