For every complex situation, there is a clear, simple, wrong answer

HL Mencken

My customers often come to me with a symptom, expecting me to reassure them with a quick and simple proposal. I have faith in their intelligence and that of their team. If an obvious answer were there in front of their eyes, they’d have implemented it already! In complexity, there is no cause and effect, which is why simple solutions don’t work. So what can we do?

The key to the situation: the system

My customers are part of an interrelated system that includes physical aspects such as production means, human beings, and a myriad of ways of relating (objectives, processes, corporate culture, values, individual and collective beliefs, etc.).

All these elements are interrelated; you affect one, and the rest of the system moves accordingly.

A system that doesn’t want to change?

We can determine the consequences of an intervention on a production process, but not the evolution of the system from this event. This is what makes the situation COMPLEX.

And we tend to believe that if we can control one, we can control the other.


The hidden mission of every system is to maintain a dynamic equilibrium between the homeostatic forces that maintain what exists, and the forces of movement that enable change.

In other words, the KNOWN (the way we’ve always done things), competes with the capacity for CHANGE (the unknown).

Even if the situation is uncomfortable or undesirable (degraded performance, disrupted human relations), the system will tend to change nothing. Often, the measures taken turn out to be “just more of the same”, despite the creativity deployed to make people believe in real change. This only serves to reinforce the deleterious dynamics already in place.

The sideways step

To make a change in a system, you have to work hard to counter these homeostatic forces.

The key to real change – Identify the element with the greatest interest in change and act there!

And it works!

I recently worked with a manager who told me he had a problem with his team.

After analysis, we identified no less than 4 systems and 4 problems, then separate four strategies to deal with them, although all linked to his managerial posture and actions.

He was the first to encounter these difficulties. He therefore had the most to gain from change of all the members of his team.

In just a few coaching sessions, we got things moving.

Two problems were solved immediately. The other two took 3 – 4 months, culminating in a modification of the entire system (change of team strategy) and a redistribution of skills and teams.

Concrete, measurable results: – increased team member satisfaction and commitment – improved performance

There were no more energy leaks in the form of conflict.

My role as consultant is not to reassure with a simple but wrong solution, but to understand the system, what’s at play in it, and to propose creative alternatives to help it evolve. After each action, I observe the system’s response, then adjust the course until the desired result is achieved.

Are you the person who has the most to gain from change?

“For every complex situation, there’s an appropriate response. I’ll help you find it! Call Me!”

Mark Harling