Navigating Simple, Complicated, Complex and Chaos



 We often hear that we live in a VUCA world – a world that is (increasingly) Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. How can we navigate in this world?



Recently I’ve caught myself procrastinating on a project - creating an online education platform for my business and publishing my courses on it. Its something that I know is important to my business development, and it is something that I am passionate about. However every time that I dedicated time to it I bounced, finding other things more important - I was just not making progress.


Then, a few days ago, I attended a session on Agile in a Nutshell by Agile guru Sabine Canditt. She talked about the spectrum of complexity using the scale of what we need to do and how we need to do it.


As per the photo - where the How and What are well defined its reasonably Simple. It become Complicated when What or How are less well defined. And when both How and What are less well defined then we can move into Complex territory. When both What and How are pretty much undefined and uncertain then we enter Chaos.



What I realised is that, at least for me

·      Simple is pretty boring – it lacks challenge. Think admin, ironing and all of those necessary but tedious things we need to do for our life and business. I can do it but I am very happy to outsource it.

·      Complicated is my fun zone – I really enjoy working where there is uncertainty, exploration and challenge

·      Complex is my stretch zone – here I feel the need to create more structure and clarity. Once I can see how things can fit together I can see the path towards progress.

·      Chaos is not my happy place – if I can’t see or create an underlying structure I can feel overwhelmed and out of control – not great for the control freak that I am.


Applying this to my project, creating online courses, I realised that I was in Complex territory – while I had a reasonable idea of the content, and have many assets already, I know that I’ll need to create quite a lot more AND I was not sure what technologies I would use. I felt uncertainty around both the What and the How.


By understanding my comfort and stretch zones better I have been able to reframe the project into two sub-projects – one focussed on the How – the technology (with multiple sub-sub projects for the individual technology components) and the other on the What – identifying the various courses that I want to create and as a step one- focussing on the first course that I want to deliver.


When we procrastinate there is usually a reason. Michael Neill, a coaching guru, talks about 5 causes of procrastination.

  1. Inertia
  2. Learned helplessness
  3. Resistance
  4. Forcing the flow
  5. Chasing the wrong goal


In my case I could feel inertia & resistance – a reluctance to get going while at the same time beating myself up about my lack of progress. At the heart of the problem was a feeling of helplessness – how could I navigate in this Complex territory. Splitting the How and What meant that I felt empowered again – I could see what needed to be done, how to do it and what the final result could look like.


When you feel helpless to make progress on something that is important to you – it is good to reflect on what is actually happening –

-       Where does your project fit in terms of simple, complicated, complex and chaos?

-       What are your own comfort and stretch zones?

-       What is needed to reframe your project so that it can fit within these zones?

-       If the task is something boring can you outsource it, so that you can focus on the zones that you enjoy (and that bring you success)?

-       Who or what can help you create better clarity and reduce uncertainty?


And finally I am reminded of the beautiful quote from Mountaineer W.H. Murray


Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.

Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!