A column by NYT’s Nicholas Kristof touched a nerve in the academy, when he suggested that academics had “walled themselves off”.
Reaction from the academy is neatly summarized in this Harvard Press blog post.
In my own view, both sides have it right. Our challenge is to distinguish the simplistic from the simple.
The simple, on the other hand, embraces complexity and seeks the clarity that lies on the other side. (Think E=MC2).
Sadly, too many academics get caught in the world of the complex, unable to find a path out. Language is a prime culprit. As Oliver Wendall Holmes Sr. noted in an essay written in 1867,
I would never use a long word, even, where a short one would answer the purpose. I know there are professors in this country who ‘ligate’ arteries. Other surgeons only tie them, and it stops the bleeding just as well.
We desperately need the hard work of plowing through the complexity to reach the simplicity on the other side.
Simplicity is critical if we wish to influence the design and guidance of the networks comprising human communities. Simple rules guide the development of complexity.
For an interesting take on this insight, take a look at how robots can develop complex structures from simple rules.
Or, in the second video, how complex patterns of animal behavior emerge from simple rules.
This insight lies at the heart of Strategic Doing.
The tricky part, of course, is that uncovering these simple rules is not so simple. In fact, it’s really hard work.
(My own situation illustrates the point. I started down the path of Strategic Doing in 1993 in Oklahoma City. We are just now at the point of being able to scale this discipline for accelerated collaboration and set the stage for a national impact.)
In the academy, it is not enough to move past the simplistic into the complex. If we hope to make an impact, we need to dig still further to find the simplicity on the other side of complexity.
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