My Challenge to You: Doubt Your Simplicity

Ryan Gottfredson

by Ryan Gottfredson

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They share the same perspectives on success. a businesswoman giving a presentation to her colleagues on a whiteboard

I am currently writing a paper for a practitioner journal called Business Horizons with this as a core message:

In order to effectively navigate increasing complexity, we need to increasingly become complex leaders

Basic Premise of This Core Message

The basic premise of this core message is that there are some people who have an internal operating system that seeks simplicity (most people) and others who have developed an internal operating system that seeks complexity (a refined ability).

Let me give you a couple of examples of this:

  • Take a politically charged topic, such as abortion. Some people try to boil this down to right or wrong (simplicity). Other people seek to understand the pros and cons of either side of the argument (complexity).
  • When I teach students, some students want me to just give them the answers to the problems that will be on the test (simplicity), while other students want to learn and master the material, which involves exploring the deeper-level nuances of a given topic (complexity).

Across my experience teaching hundreds of students and doing workshops for thousands of leaders, I feel I can conclusively state that leaders and people who are more complex are more effective at navigating life, work, and leadership.

How to Elevate Your Complexity

I also believe that everyone can elevate in their complexity. And, we should all strive to do so.

But, where do we start? What is the first step we need to take to elevate our complexity?

The answer to these questions is:

Doubt Your Simplicity

We can never move to a higher level of thinking unless we create the space to doubt our current level of thinking. This is easier said than done.

Let me give you some examples of leaders who have struggled to doubt their simplicity.

What does Doubting Your Simplicity Look Like?

  • I am working with an executive team right now, and the CEO has refused to participate in the developmental efforts because he believes that (1) he cannot develop and (2) he doesn’t need to develop. This strikes me as being simplistic and both beliefs he would benefit from doubting.
  • Watch this video clip from Pitch Perfect, and try to sense how open the leader (Aubrey) seems willing to doubt her simplicity. To her, she believes that she has a “proven formula” for success. And, if you have seen the movie, it is a “proven formula” worth doubting.
  • I was recently at a conference, and in a group discussion, I stated, “I think that sports environments are more complex than corporate environments.” I believe I can make a strong case for that stance. But, a lady at my table said, “I am not sure I agree.” In that moment, I had a choice, I could double-down on my statement (mostly in defense), or I could create space to doubt my simplicity. I must have had a good day because I chose to doubt my simplicity and I now think I would take a different stance on the topic.

Now, Ask Yourself:

  • How willing are you to doubt your simplicity?
  • Do you have a “proven formula” that you are attached to?
  • Do you tend to think through complex things in a simplistic way?
  • Is there a single or a few levers that you focus on for success?
  • Do you tend to boil things down to “right” or “wrong,” or “good” or “bad?”

If you are reading this blog, it is my guess that you are not extremely simplistic, so you might feel these questions are softball questions.

If that is you, great! But, still leave room to doubt your simplicity.

Developing Leaders

I would love to work with you to create space to help your leaders doubt their simplicity so that they can operate at a higher level by elevating their complexity. If you would like to explore that, connect with me here.

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