Sunday, October 26, 2008

[Long Range Thinking] An initial summary of the issues with LRT

Here's a summary of some of the important concepts I've been writing about for the last week or so. I'm trying to articulate some of the elements that make it more difficult for people to think long range:

The 'timeline' is the length of time a person is comfortable making plans for. A gambling addict can have a timeline of between 30 seconds and a couple of minutes. "Where's the next $2 coin for the pokies coming from?"

The 'responsibility' is how much action do you personally need to take, or think you should take, vs. how much action you think everyone else is taking.

The 'scope' is the limits of how complex a situation a person is comfortable making plans about. Many people are daunted by the scope of an issue like climate change. There are many variables involved, including a mass of scientific data to assess and reinterpret into terms intelligible to you, decisions to make about likely scenarios, and a global ecosystem to try and visualise. It is a complex problem.

In 'Solving Tough Problems', Adam Kahane defines three types of complexity:

  1. Dynamic - how close together are the problem's cause and effect?
  2. Generative - how familiar and predictable is the future suggested by the problem?
  3. Social - how much to the people affected by the problem agree about what's causing the problem?

Kahane suggests that to solve problems with a high dynamic complexity, you need to examine the interrelationships among the pieces and the functioning of the whole system.

If you want to solve a problem with a high generative complexity, you can't calculate the solution in advance, based on what has worked in the past; you have to work it out as the situation unfolds.

When solving problems with a high social complexity, the people involved must participate in creating and implementing the solution.

To solve a complex problem, we have to immerse ourselves in and open up to its full complexity. Dynamic complexity requires us to talk not just with experts close to us, but also with people on the periphery. Generative complexity requires that we talk not only about options that worked in the past, but also about ones that are emerging now. And social complexity requires us to talk not just with people who see things the same way we do, but especially with those who see things differently, even those we don't like. We must stretch way beyond our comfort zone.

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