Image of braided rope with "Obstacles and Tools for Making and Keeping the Complex Uncompicated"

Obstacles & Tools for Making and Keeping the Complex Uncomplicated

In a previous post, I discussed our yearning to make and keep the complex uncomplicated. Here I want to focus on the two biggest obstacles and two helpful tools. I’ve also included a few strategies I use to help individuals and organizations keep the complex uncomplicated.

Obstacles: Oversimplification and Overcomplication

Oversimplification is an unwillingness to recognize complexity. We argue with reality and try and make the complex simple by refusing to explore or understand it. An example might be dismissing students’ challenges today compared to our own or pretending the cultural and political realities we disagree with don’t exist. Either/or or binary thinking (good/bad or right/wrong) is a common approach to oversimplification. As bell hooks reminded us, binary thinking is dominator thinking. Oversimplification can be tempting when we would rather not take responsibility for engaging with complex realities.

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

US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes

Overcomplication occurs when we let complexity get too complicated. We can allow complexity to take on a life of its own and can be overwhelmed. One common path to overcomplication is enormity, where we make something bigger than it needs to be. See: What Is Your 22-Hour Pinata? Turning writing this short blog post into a three-day procrastination is a good example. Similar to oversimplification, we often allow something to get overcomplicated so we can justify avoiding taking responsibility for addressing it. Is overcomplicating things a means of procrastination for you?

Tools: Nuance and Paradox

Nuance explores the continuum between two binary or either/or options. Rather than I can or I can’t, we might consider I might with help or I could if I took time to learn. For example, I find many folks think they are not doing their curricular approach right (binary of right/wrong). Rather than this binary approach, I invite folks to consider where they are on their journey. I often imagine nuance as a continuum between the shores of a river. How might we canoe or kayak, especially as the river starts to feel treacherous? The shores on either side represent certainty and are so tempting. However, the adventure, the learning, and the path forward are in navigating the space in between. At first, we needed to be closer to this shore to catch the current, then we needed to be in the middle, and now we need to be closer to that shore to avoid the obstacle. Buddhists would call this the middle path.

Paradox recognizes that something can be two seemingly opposite things simultaneously. A coin is both heads and tails at the same time. Your boss is frustrated with you and cares about you simultaneously. I love paradoxes. Here are some of my favorites:

Helping individuals and organizations make and keep the complex uncomplicated has become a theme across all my work. Here are some strategies I’ve been employing.


  • Clarify aims and align actions.
  • Explore the complexity to find the simplicity within it.
  • Unbraiding when we confuse multiple things with one thing. The intertwined threads may seem singular when multiple things are at play.
  • Recognize multiple truths, lenses, possibilities, and paths. Finding a perfect or right path may be an obstacle to moving forward and making the path chosen right for you.
  • Simplify. Practice essentialism. How can you do less, so you can be more?
  • What may seem like it requires a process, could be just a decision.

I love helping individuals and organizations make and keep the complex uncomplicated for leadership, learning, and equity. If you think I can help you, let’s connect.

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Leaders and organizations turn to Keith as an authentic educator, trusted leader, and unconventional scholar helping them advance leadership, learning, and equity.

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