Simplifying Complexity


Do you want to feel less overwhelmed when faced with a complex challenge? In this TED Talk with Eric Berlow, an ecologist, he distills extremely complex situations into meaningful and manageable elements by identifying the “sphere of influence.” He examines real life examples of zooming out on problems to zero in on simple solutions, and encourages empowering yourself to embrace complexity.

What You’ll Learn

After completing the work on this page, you will be able to:

  • Distinguish the difference between “complex” and “complicated.”
  • Recognize the importance of good visualization tools to help you ask questions that you did not think to ask previously.
  • Comprehend how defining the “sphere of influence” can be used to untangle complex problems.

Watch the Video

Dig Deeper

After watching the video, reflect on the following questions – jot down your thoughts. Consider sharing this video with a colleague or a work group for an insightful discussion.  For the first two items below, recall a few complex challenges that you have encountered in the past.

  1. How do you typically feel when you are faced with a complex challenge?
  2. How do you typically approach a complex challenge?  Is your approach similar or different each time?  How effective is your approach to resolving the problem?
  3. Identify one complex challenge that you are currently facing and sketch it out (yes, physically draw it). On your drawing, isolate and label the “sphere of influence”. Review your sketch and ask yourself questions that perhaps you did not previously consider. Identify a solution or multiple solutions that affect the sphere of influence. Compare your new solution(s) to any solutions that you had perhaps previously identified. Compare your feelings using this approach to how you have felt when faced with complex problems in the past.

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