The Curse of Complexity

Number 46

The Curse of Complexity

The year 2009 has now dawned and we find ourselves looking straight down the barrel of another long, busy year ahead. With this realisation, it is only natural that we are now all striving to ‘get our houses in order’, so to speak, and are shifting through the many physical, mental, financial, tangible and intangible facets of our convoluted, complicated lives.

As I was doing this myself – wading through the mountains of responsibility in my mind; making mental notes to myself as to what I hope to achieve and when I must achieve it by; mentally calculating just how much it seems to cost these days in order to simply live, as opposed to a few short years ago – I found myself seriously pondering the thought: “How and when did my life get so complicated?” And I realised that it wasn’t just my life that was complicated, but life in general. When did the ‘day-to-day’ become so contorted with complexity and confusion?

Once I had started this line of thought, I just couldn’t help myself. I kept thinking more and more about the path that we, as human beings, have taken from simple, community-based societies that used to manage just fine without computers, electricity, common conveniences, huge egos, overwhelming ambitions, unnecessary stress, ready-made food, a houseful of material possessions, and so on.

We, as people, survived just fine without the many complications of today. Life was simple, but it worked and we were happy. But if the complications of today, on which we have learned to utterly rely on, were suddenly taken away, in what state would that leave us?

What if we woke up tomorrow and there was no more electricity? How would we maintain our complicated lives? How would we maintain our society or maintain general civic order? I remember the catastrophe of looting, violence and chaos that sprung from the natural devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in August 2005. The city was cut off from electricity for days, was without communication, and at least one whole day passed without any access to drinking water. Hurricane Katrina struck on 29 August 2005, and by the very next day, the city had collapsed into a state of looting and desperate measures by ordinary folk trying to survive without the ‘complications’ they had come to depend upon. Police and rescue teams were forced to split their resources between saving victims of the hurricane, and upholding law and order amongst all the plundering and crimes in the streets. After one day of no electricity – a modern complexity – and that is what happened. The situation saddened me and scared me.

How can we get ‘back to basics’ and simplify our lives? How can we ‘de-clutter’ ourselves and revive the Earth? How can we learn to remove the complexity of our everyday existence and get back to what matters? If we look through ancient times, we see that as civilizations are created and subsequently grow, it is ultimately their increasing complexity that spells their demise. Today, within our own modern, technological civilization, it just might be that we have reached the end of the line, and the compounding complexities of civilizations past, combined with our own, may in fact cause an end to it all, with no hope for this civilization to survive, nor for another civilization to grow in its place.

Please take a moment to ponder… If we continue to complicate our lives with material things and needless thoughts; if we continue to use energy as though it were unlimited; if we insist on burning through our natural resources as if they will never run out; and if we constantly jeopardise our own future by failing to secure provisions for the future, then our lives will grow ever more complicated and the Earth will become totally smothered and suffocated by complexity.

Within our own company, we can help to minimise the effect our own business complexities have on the environment. Turn off the light when you leave the office, and try to use natural light whenever you can. Think before you print that email, report, information sheet, etc. Use both sides of your paper. Ask yourself if you really need the air-conditioner or the heater. Try to catch public transport to work, or ride a bike to improve your own fitness at the same time. Use products that are made from recycled materials. These ‘green’ measures also work in your home activities.

In our own personal lives, we can try to minimise the complications we face by sticking true to the mantra made famous by Richard Carlson: Don’t sweat the small stuff. We can de-complicate our lives by coming to a realisation about what really matters. In the long-term, material wealth is elusive, but spiritual wealth is paramount and enduring. Spend time with the people who are important to you, and relieve yourself of time spent on wasteful activities.

Break yourself free of the complex ties that bind you to a mindless, consuming life. Open your eyes, smell the roses, and flush yourself of your life’s complexities. We’ll all be better for it.


Joseph Bismark

Group Managing Director, QI Ltd

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