How to Embrace Your Complexity and No One Else’s

By Rob Keefer

Too often complexity is forced on us by the products we use and environments we live in. It is time for you to embrace your complexity and no one else’s.

A few years ago Robin set out to meet a friend at a Panera Bread restaurant for lunch. She was familiar with the part of town where she planned to meet the friend, and had been to the Panera a few years before, so she confidently set off to her lunch appointment without using a GPS.

When Robin arrived at the location she thought she remembered, there was no Panera there. Realizing that the restaurant had likely moved to a nearby location, Robin pulled out her phone and looked up the store locator on the Panera website.

What she found frustrated her. The store locator asked her for a zip code, and she didn’t know the zip code for the part of town she was in.

Like most people, Robin only knew a few zip codes, two of which were the one for her house and the other for her office. Also, Robin knew where a Panera was located near her home and her office. So prompting Robin for a zip code was absurd.

Not to be deterred, Robin went to Google and queried for Panera Bread locations near her current location. Unfortunately, the closest location that Google was aware of was her current location, so the restaurant must have moved recently enough to not be updated in Google.

Still determined to find the Panera without calling her friend, Robin decided to drive around a bit. She was sure it had to be nearby.

Eventually, Robin made her way past the restaurant district and decided to pull into a church parking lot and turn around for a second pass. As she did she thought, “Oh, I could Google the church.”

So, she stopped and searched for the church name on her phone. Fortunately, the church’s address was listed on its website. She pulled the zip code from the website and entered it into the store finder on Panera’s website. Sure enough, it listed the Panera she was looking for just down the street from where she had been.

Throughout this interaction Robin was forced to embrace complexity that wasn’t hers. She didn’t know the zip code that her phone was in, but her phone knew where she was. Software developers such as those who created Panera’s website have tools at their disposal that can be used to find out where the user’s phone is at a given moment. Rather than embracing the complexity of asking the phone where it was, the developers pushed that complexity out to Robin and asked her to type in where she was. And, as has already been pointed out, if she needs to use this feature then she is unlikely to know the answer to this question.

This lack of complexity ownership and management appears in many aspects of life.

This lack of complexity ownership and management appears in many aspects of life.

Imagine yourself in a situation in which you have just been allocated by your manager to four different projects at 30% each. As you wander back to your cubicle, you wonder how you are going to contribute 120%. What do you do?

Too often employees embrace their manager’s complexity. They take on more than can be accomplished but then just work on the projects they find to be most interesting or most important. In a world without clearly communicated priorities, people will set their own.

In this situation, to embrace your complexity and no one else’s, go to the manager, explain the situation, and ask for direction. It is the manager’s job to set priorities and make decisions on the relative importance of projects.

When you are in a situation like this, where complexity that isn’t yours has been pushed onto you, consider three steps as you decide how to proceed.

Admit that the complexity exists.

Whether it is the complexity of managing a project team, managing a family, or simply getting to work in the morning, complexity is hidden everywhere.

Determine who owns the complexity.

It may be your complexity and it may be someone else’s. It is important to know who should embrace the complexity.

Manage the complexity.

If it is someone else’s complexity, politely push back and let them know. This could lead to a difficult conversation with a family member or boss. From the previous example, if you are waiting on your manager to make a decision, find out what you can do to help with a resolution and encourage them to make the decision. But, if it is your complexity, embrace it! Take it in and do the very best you can to tackle it.

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Embrace your complexity and no one else's. And on behalf of all of your users, the people who use the products that you build, please embrace your complexity. Don’t ask them where they are - most likely they don’t know.

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