“Some friends and I started talking…”

Have we become suspicious about anything that isn’t difficult? Margaret Wheatley, author of Leadership and the New Science, discusses our complex society and the conversations that simplify everything.

Living a simpler life has become a prevalent theme in the past several years. Ideas and methods abound for how we might achieve a simpler life, ranging from how to simplify day-to-day routines to how to decrease the demand for resources we place on the planet.

I meet many people who would like to simplify their lives, yet the world grows only more complex. Complexity has taken over how we attempt to get things done in organizations, communities and governments. We can’t seem to do anything simply anymore. Making a decision, creating a plan, holding a meeting—all of these now involve complex and time-consuming processes. A once-simple process, like neighborly conversation, has become a “technique,” an “inter-generational, cross-cultural dialogue,” perhaps. We become exhausted by the intricacy of these processes and frustrated by the lack of productive outcomes.

As much as we’d like to leave behind the impotence we experience with these processes, it’s extremely difficult to reverse the movement toward complexity. As soon as a simple process becomes a technique, it grows only more complex and difficult. It never becomes simpler. It becomes the specialized knowledge of experts, and everyone else becomes dependent on them. We forget that we already…