Thursday, February 7, 2013

Facilitate … to achieve simplicity

While perusing the Internet recently, I found a wonderful quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., an American jurist.

“I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity. “

This quote may sound complex; yet, is really simple!  And profound.  I think this quote applies significantly to facilitation.  I help people in organizations recognize that they often need to discuss and decide about very complex issues and situations in order to achieve simplicity.  It does not help to try for a simple and “quick and dirty” solution.  Rather, people need to dedicate the time to know as many facts as possible about a situation, consider all of the alternative actions and their consequences, and make decisions that will have impact for a long time.  Once these decisions are reached and implemented, the group often is able to carry out its activities in a simple manner.  The group has achieved simplicity “on the other side of complexity”.
As an example, some years ago, I worked with seven organizations wishing to create a formal partnership.  In our first session, the participants reviewed a document that provided an analysis of each organization; outlining strengths, liabilities, and interest in working together.  Many of the participants said that they knew everything about the organizations and did not need to waste time on reviewing the document.  I asked them to commit to two hours to discuss the document and then decide upon further review.  Once the two hours were over, the participants acknowledged that they knew little about each other and were trying to simplify and hurry a process that was complex.  We then designed and conducted a four month process that culminated in a collaboration model for the organizations.

 As facilitator, I simplify whenever possible; yet recognize when complexity requires more time and attention in order to achieve simplicity.

My facilitation question is:  what examples do you have about complexity and simplicity?