Easy to apply strategies to deal with complex situations

Think:Act Magazine Complexity
Easy to apply strategies to deal with complex situations

Portrait of Think:Act Magazine

Think:Act Magazine

Munich Office, Central Europe
May 25, 2018

Has complexity got you paralyzed and deadlocked?


by Detlef Gürtler

Don't panic! We've put together some simple strategies, inspired by history, heroes and contemporary figures, that will help you cut through even the most complicated conundrums…

Stir it like Schubert

Use your advantage - If you're having a hard time dealing with complexity, it could be that others are finding the situation even trickier than you are. So if it happens that you're better dealing with it than your competitors, use your advantage. Take a page from the fisherman's strategy in Franz Schubert's song "The Trout" and add even more complexity to the mix: "So long as the water stays clear, he won't catch the trout with his fishing rod." He stirs the water, reduces the visibility, makes the situation more "complex" for the trout – and catches it. It might not be fair, but it is highly efficient.

Gut-feel it like Gigerenzer

Trust your experience - In Gerd Gigerenzer's native German language, you don't get a "gut feeling," but rather a "bauchgefühl." But whatever your language and whatever you call it, the German psychologist observed that we often follow simple heuristics in complex situations: If you're not able to get a full overview and understand the situation, just do what first comes to mind. The results of this strategy are remarkably good as it calls on your experience and tacit knowledge.

Rise above it like apollo

Find a new perspective - Astronauts may be some of the toughest guys on earth, but all on board Apollo were moved – even overwhelmed – when they left Earth behind and saw the blue planet from above: just one of a billion planets out there, small and vulnerable, and still the only one we have. But even if you don't plan to leave our orbit anytime soon, it's worth remembering that switching to a bird's (or satellite's) point of view will definitely change the way you see the problems ahead of you.

Bananaize it like google

Take a long view - It may sound a bit pejorative when software developers call their products "bananaware" – that is, software that ripens on the journey from producer to consumer, just like bananas on their way from plantation to supermarket. But in today's world, that's a feature and not a bug: A "perpetual beta" mode treats users as co-developers, adding and removing functionalities on the fly. One of the biggest "banana" success stories is Gmail: When Google's mail service finally exited beta status in July 2009, five years after it was launched, it already had more than 30 million users.

Cut it like Alexander

Look for the simplest answer - It's a legend grown out of one of the trickiest problems of the ancient world: disentangling the Gordian knot. The one who could master this seemingly impossible task would become the ruler of Asia and hundreds of people tried to untie it: It was a real masterpiece of complexity. Of course, no one succeeded – that is until Alexander the Great came along. He used his sword, definitely the simplest possible "short cut" through the complexity.

Jump over it like Silicon Valley

Embrace imperfection - If you want to solve problems the way Silicon Valley does, there's one thing to remember: Nobody's perfect, and even trying to be is the wrong way to get around complexity. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) sums up the strategy as "rough consensus and running code." The truth is that things never turn out like you intended, and planning too exactly in complex contexts may just kill your project. Markets, technologies and consumer needs may simply outgrow what once looked like a roadblock. A bit of operative fuzziness will help you to get along.

Further reading
Our Think:Act magazine
blue background
Think:Act Edition

Exploring complexity


Don't miss our article with Nobel Prize winner Richard Thaler, as well as much more food for thought.

Published October 2017. Available in
Subscribe now!

Curious about the contents of our newest Think:Act magazine? Receive your very own copy by signing up now! Subscribe here to receive our Think:Act magazine and the latest news from Roland Berger.

Portrait of Think:Act Magazine

Think:Act Magazine

Munich Office, Central Europe