I am on the long flight home from a series of workshops and classes in Boston: at Harvard, at Children’s Hospital, with world-class coaches and consultants. In each of these places, the idea of complexity looms large—not just because I bring it along, but because it’s already there.
I ask my participants about the increasing complexity in their lives and give them time to think about it. They erupt in a storm of talking. Their lives are more complex on every dimension: there are more uncertainties to watch, there are more interconnections among the parts, there are more players in each of the realms, some in person, and some virtually. Everyone has a story of the way their work is increasingly international, from the 20 countries represented in my class at the Kennedy School to the students who have never left the US but are connected to people around the world. The swirling together of uncertainty, diversity, and change leave these people–graduate students, doctors, teachers, and leaders at the top of their careers—all a little dizzy and confused.
While there are no key competencies easily named in these many places, these folks are thinking hard about participating and contributing in a more complex and global reality.
How is it, though, that we can grow better able to deal with complexity? And, if this increasing complexity is puzzling and unsettling these adult learners, what might it be doing for the students in classrooms around our country? Might it be that woven through each individual challenge (whether it’s finding the problem as Sue writes about or inviting a friend over after school) is a growing demand for our participation and contribution in a more complex world? And would we adults—who are dizzied by the complexity around us—be able to help prepare young people for this uncertain future?
My daughter came home from her year 10 class with a furrow in her brow a few weeks ago. “My teacher told me today that we are preparing for careers that don’t even exist yet!” she told me, frustrated. “How on earth are we supposed to plan for that?”
How indeed. It may well be that helping all of us develop a greater facility for complexity and uncertainty is a core piece of 21st Century education. As you think about your experience as a growing and changing adult, what has helped you get better at that?