Making a difference has nothing to do with complexity

Knowledge brokering12 Mar 2010Pepijn Jansen
My idea was to do something good for the world, to make a difference. Not to work in a sector that ravels in self-indulgent misery, wondering if the project we, or one of our local partners, did two years ago contributed to our indicator… let alone trying to work out how exactly some vague idea (complexity) can help me in finding solutions no one will understand because “the problems we deal with are simply too complex to solve with simple solutions.” Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust complex solutions that no-one will understand (“so let’s hand them over to the consultant who came up with the idea in the first place…”) That just doesn’t work for me. I believe making a difference has nothing to do with complexity, but rather with good ideas and good practice. And not with guru-like talks and consultants that are selling-out. One of the things that struck me most, recently, was hearing a speech from John Elkington at the launch of the Centre for Development Innovation at Wageningen University. Besides the fact that “he didn’t need an introduction” (according to the rector of the university, who was struck with awe that this very important person came to his university) – while at least me and my neighbour had never heard of him (let’s call this the Power of Gurus)… Anyway, this guy wrote a book with a title that I heard of before: The Power of Unreasonable People. When I first heard the title, over a year ago, I thought the book would be about how unreasonable people always mess up reasonable processes. At that time I was struggling with another one of those nice newly-invented concepts: Multi-Stakeholder Processes. You know: put people together and they will come up with a solutions that they all own and everybody can live with. Which I didn’t buy, as I thought (and still think) there will always be unreasonable people that either don’t want to join or don’t want to adjust.

So I thought “Great, someone wrote something about all those people that have had so much negative impact on history but never stood to reason. And maybe a way of working around these people (wishful thinking, I know….).” Never bothered to buy or read the book, though… So when this John Elkington started talking about his book a bell in my head rang. Interesting! Well…

Apparently many people believe this book (at least, its author has gained some sort of guru-status). But the book is not about unreasonable people that do bad things, no, really, the book is about how the world needs unreasonable people to do innovative and world-changing good things. Apparently, people that do not listen to others are great for society. Unreasonable people will change the world for the good! Yes! We may not fully understand them, but certainly that can only have something to do with, uhm, complexity and stuff, right? So everybody in the room started nodding their heads. Well, at least the unreasonable people who think they can change the world because they do know how the world works and what is better for others. They just can’t explain it, so they wrote some books about complexity (“you cannot understand the world, and you need complex solutions that no-one can understand”) and unreasonable people (“we do understand the world, but you cannot understand us so we will provide you with the solutions”). Sounds a lot like some kind of paternalism to me.

Let’s try and find some simple answers and solutions to these so-called complex times. I think they just might work as well.