Complexity and Change

As I was in the process of uprooting for our new adventure this week, I had an interesting thought. There’s a fundamental relationship between complexity and change. When there is a lot of complexity, change is very difficult.

When we had no kids and no dogs, it was easy to change. I did it a lot in startups. When we had our kids, things got a lot more complex (and fun!). We had a lot of complexity – and stability. Change was a lot harder.

It seems pretty obvious writing it here, but in talking with people about what we are doing, we heard a lot of folks say both that they are inspired and envious and at the same time can’t imagine trying to do this. That it is “a lot of change all at once” or that there are too many things [aka complexity] keeping them where they are. And where they are is comfortable and safe. Especially now, this resonates a lot with me.

Change isn’t safe. There is a lot of unknown. In my line of work – understanding people and designing products for them – I’ve found that people generally dislike and resist change. Believe me, I dislike having to change things too just when they are getting comfortable (changing operating systems comes to mind J).

Man is a creature that is most proficient at adapting. It’s been true in our entire history. I think we are losing this skill though in general in our lives. The last few centuries have added more complexity and stability – and less desire to change what we have. It can just be so overwhelming to deal with the regular flood of new information we see every day for example. According to IBM, “90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone.” We can’t keep up, much less change. At least, I feel that way a lot.

Change can be great though. Innovation feeds on change. When we learn and do new things, we continually help develop our brain. I’m constantly inspired by TED talks on this topic. Change keeps us adaptable and ready for new things. As I seem to tell my kids young adults a lot, you get good at what you practice. If we don’t practice changing, then we won’t be good at it.

We were talking with our young adults and we realized that even though only 11 and 13, they had already gotten used to the idea that things stay the same. They had a lot of complexity in their lives and had gotten comfortable. That was a bit scary for me.

The world they will grow into will certainly be more complex, but I think it will also be constantly changing even more than today. They will have to deal with a lot of adaptive challenges globally that will require adaptive thinking and leaders who can lead in the face of uncertainty and change (Linksy and Heifetz wrote a great book about this).

So in addition to giving our young adults a more global perspective, we realized another part of our adventure, and of their start into “unschooling”, is showing them that change is possible, doesn’t have to be daunting, and can be incredibly empowering.

I’m not sure what we’ll discover in Costa Rica or what sorts of challenges we’ll find, but the practice of trying something new will certainly be part of what we all learn and get good at. Here’s to change!

PS: You’ll hear a lot about unschooling as we start our adventure.