The Art of Hosting

Copied over from the email list, July 2014:

Hi All,


Recently a client said to me "We know we are facing increasing complexity. That's not our problem. What we really need to know is how to deal with it." I asked him how he knew he was facing increasing complexity. He couldn't answer the question.


So I've been giving some thought to helping people know if their situation is complex. How do we know if we are in complexity, or is it just complicated or even simple or chaotic? Can we apply a technical solution or do we need to be adaptive?


Are there just a few questions we can ask that will let us know? Here are some that I think are helpful:

  • Do you have a problem that you have tried old, tried and tested solutions on, and still it isn't fixed?
  • Are there many divergent world views in the system or do people have to change something in their beliefs, values, or behaviours in order for something to work?
  • Does this require us to work in new and unfamiliar ways?
  • Are we overwhelmed by information, some of which seems contradictory?
  • Have we achieved a new scale, that leads to a qualitative change?


Are these enough? What do you think of them? What others would you offer?


I look forward to hearing from you.


Many thanks




Hi Stephen,
Good to see these thoughts and questions shared here.  I have been reflecting on the questions you offer an on complexity and one additional question that is in my own awareness, having happened upon Polarity Management in recent months is: is what you are dealing with a problem that can be solved or is it a polarity that needs to be managed?  Understanding that polarities exist and that they do not have either/or solutions can be helpful to surfacing what are sometimes hidden dynamics in a situation.  Examples are cost containment and revenue development, sacred purpose and economic model, individual and collective decision making, as a start.  I'm not sure if it would help unearth whether a situation is complex or not but it has me curious.  Kathy
Kathy Jourdain
Hi Stephen,

Good question. Kathy - I appreciated your point about polarity.

Here are a few others -
- Is there a gap between cause and effect, e.g., in time, we make a change and may not see the impact for years?

- Are there feedback loops involved? (amplifying or negative) - this is from systems thinking terminology

- Are there multiple scales involved, e.g., local, regional, national? The blog I wrote here explores this point:
In working for change within complex systems, we similarly need to be able to work at multiple levels and see how these fit together, e.g., from an individual project to an organization to a network to a large scale system. We are used to thinking about work in teams and in organizations, yet, when we get to the level of cross-sector collaborations or large scale systems it gets harder to conceptualize and understand how all the levels fit together.


One of the reasons I like using the Cynefin framework is that it can help point out the different kinds of situations we are in.  In all situations there are complicated and simple and complex things happening.  It’s helpful to have a scehem to understand how they differ.  
Essentially, the basic situation is that if you can clearly understand the causes and effects of your situation, it probably requires a technical solution, like fixing a pipe.  If you are surprised by something, or there is an emergent situation that seems to have “come out of nowhere” with multiple causes all influencing one another, you are in a complex situation and require an adaptive solution, like confronting poverty.  The danger of not knowing which is which is that you will just make a choice based on what you know how to do.  That can lead to a catastrophic failure as we try to apply technical solutions to complex issues or adaptive solutions to technical problems.  
Dear all,
Today at the 'engaging for Transformation' training Marco Valente introduced the Cybefin framework and the circle asked the exact same question. 
Here we found the obvious one:
Human actors and reactions are important.

Hi Stephen and all,

A very good question indeed.  One way to look at it might be that as soon as conversation and dialogue (in the broadest sense) is part of it, then we are in a complexity zone.  Conversation is an emergent phenomenon, and so anything involving people talking (or even reading) is complex. 




Mark, your response here made me smile because I've been doing some writing on complexity and put in there that you could almost say as soon as people enter the picture, complexity comes with it. The human dynamics of life gives us lots of practice ground.  The way we are thinking about complexity though is a bit different than that and includes that.  K
Kathy Jourdain
I am inclined to start from a position of accepting complexity as a given and work to distinguish complexity from complication - it is the latter that, I find, is really the issue.  Nothing is so certain as the complexity of life in and out of organisations. But complexity can be simply perceived—complications never are.
Does this view resonate?
Kind regards,
John James
I'm not sure I completely agree that people necessarily create complexity. If everyone is comfortable with a process and it flows well than there is not necessarily anything complex about it. Indeed, as Chris mentioned, if we apply an adaptive solution to a technical problem we can make things worse. An example for me would be putting out a fire. I would not want a group of firemen sitting around sorting out an adaptive solution when my house is on fire. A technical solution would work just fine - indeed better. Of course the firemen are people and still a technical solution works best. The complexity might come later when I deal with the insurance company! I thought your first point was a little more nuanced as it included the idea of conversation as emergent.
Is it possible that it becomes complex when we ask people to change their world view? And/or if there are multiple world views that don't align?
Thanks for your contribution.
Hello, I am new to this list and to this thread, so I may be a bit off base.
I am wondering if we, as humans, always have a choice as to whether we make our situation simple or complex. Stephen, I would agree that if people are comfortable with a process (such as the firefighters) and it flows, then there is not necessarily too much complexity.
However, if even one firefighter decided to do things his own way, it might lead to much complexity in the process.
Would I be naïve to say that most technical fixes come from experience? I wonder if most adaptive changes need some brainstorming and trials based on experience in order to offer some change that moves in a different direction.
Maybe in our situations, we have the choice as to whether we make it complex or simpler, and then that raises the questions about how each of us enters a situation and how we choose to deal with others in the situation.
Just a wondering - I will be playing with this one for a while.
Thanks for the conversation,
Ellen Bruckner
Hi all :) !
Thank you for the thread... 
I wanted to take the risk to share the Cynefin model as i use it (i learnt it during an Art of Hosting training); as it helps me a lot to ;assess if there is a 'complex situation' :
- simple situation : the chocolate cake i can do it on my own today: the recipe exists and i can find it (on the internet or elsewhere), i can go to the supermarket and buy the ingredients, cook the cake and put it in the oven, all this all by myself ; happy birthday :) !
Few and obvious cause and effect schemes. Independent action.
Nota bene : for me, the assessment of the simplicity, complicatedness and complexity of a situation also depends of the perspective/skills of the person who's asking the question ; for a child, cooking a chocolate cake may be complicated :)
- complicated situation : building an airplane
i am not able to do the job by myself today, i need others as multiple skills and expertises are required, but together we know how to do and can do it: a prototype (or even polished solution) exists and we still 'just' need to follow the recipe, each of the contributor does her/his job, contribute a specific role ; as a chocolate cake we can build an airplane together if we want to
-> here, we could try not to reinvent the wheel, look for the solutions that exist and adapt them to our situation / parameters (i watched a video where it was said that 90% of the solutions we are looking for already exist...)
Numerous and non obvious; cause and effect schemes. Expertise and collective action needed.
- complex situation : the 'education' of a child or the long-term vision for a company
multistakeholders (with interests seen as potentially divergent), solution not found before or rapidly evolving situation, non predictable results: we (children, parents, teachers, friends, ... or employees, executives, shareholders, consumers, nature's representatives...) need to gather together to explore/find the question that will bring our interests/hearts/souls/skills/happiness together toward a common direction, knowing there could be maybe not a unique recipe, but individual and collective practices toward a common good/goal
-> here, i look for innovation through collaboration and use participatory processes (multistakeholders contemplation of current state, conversation and action); until we reach a replicable solution those situations remain classified as 'complex', can then become classified as;'complicated' (or maybe even simple in some future ?!) Numerous and unpredictable cause and effect schemes. Collective awareness and common will needed.
When dealing with complex situations, what i personally like is pushing the perspective as high as I can during the art of designing phase (looking for the highest potential of the people present and of the present situation (using dream/retrospective projection and provocation), to explore and discover the question /direction that will include and overlook individual interests to gather the strengths of all, toward a win-win-win situation :) - while doing this I remain aware that what i/we see as the highest potential would be different with other people :)
- what else : what I myself find the most complex, chaotic and challenging situations are my most intimate relationships
The one with myself (between hosting myself/accepting myself and choosing to evolve, between searching for life meaning and living the present as it is...), the one with my family (when i know that one way/decision or the other it's not going to be fun for me...), with friends (when sometimes even with the best intentions i can't succeed to have a learning dialogue that would help me and my friends overstep current misunderstandings and go back to the essence/love).
-> as a practice to respond to that, i am definitely trying to go toward simplicity and authenticity (outspeaking/sharing 'my' reality/feelings and giving myself the right to be me)

I dont't know if i bring interesting data here or if i am just sharing my life
so i'll just 'trust the process' ;)
Fun and helpful conversation -- thank you.
My two cents:
Simple -- the chocolate cake. It is a recipe (thanks Heloise).
Complicated -- cakes for a large wedding or festival. Still a recipe, but has a lot more scale to it, and the beginning of variety.
Complex -- growing the food sources that go into cakes. Requires a conversation and the agreement to experiment together.
Chaotic -- drought so that there isn't food sources, or loss of transportation systems. Requires presence. Requires simple offerings from within the randomness.
I quite love the Cynefin model and have been using it a lot lately. To help people see the differences in perception. To map the work they are doing or want to do. To note the differences.
Love this thread.

Especially all of these different ways of describing terms.  I will use some of them.

My little addition to this stone soup is a small writing about Cynefin I did as part of my new book  -- just a way of introducing it.  Attached.


Love it Bob.
"Begin by being in our confusion." 
Or, begin by adopting a fundamental disposition that imposing truth doesn't make it truth.
I like the way this speaks to the need to be in plurality of perspective, whatever the space on the map.

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