Complexity Of Change: From Pain Masking To Pain Mapping

“When we experience the world as “too complex” we are not just experiencing the complexity of the world. We are experiencing a mismatch between the world’s complexity and our own at this moment. There are only two logical ways to mend this mismatch – reduce the world’s complexity or increase our own.” -Kegan and Lahey via Immunity to Change

The complexity of our modern world is escalating and intensifying, often at a pace faster than our mental models can grasp and can consciously or unconsciously reframe. It is that pace which is invoking increasing levels of frustration and fear in our organizations and our leadership. We are facing escalating issues of mental overload, which can often be attributed to a misalignment between our capacity and speed we find ourselves able to learn and the pace of change and the complexity it creates in today’s world.

This misalignment is evoking feelings of uncomfortableness at both individual and organizational levels. It is this increasing uncomfortableness that is making today’s leaders more reactionary than proactive, more attentive of the urgent than the important, more answer than question driven, more bottom-line implementation focused than discovery learning and capacity-building invested.

Creating organizations and leaders with well-polished veneers that are unfortunately ill-equipped with the necessary depth and knowledge to deal effectively with a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world.

So we struggle with the concept and idea of change, even though we all know it is an integrated and evolving part of our daily lives. To appear productive in the face of this turbulent pace of change, we look for quick fixes and simple answers to the complex problems and issues that surround us and our organizations. We choose to be efficient over being effective, masking the problems and issues for a time, only to see them rise up again in the future meaner, leaner and stronger.

To deal with the complexity of change in our modern world, shallow and veneer answers and solutions will no longer be sufficient. We need leaders willing to deep dive into the problems and issues that plague us and our organizations.

One concept or strategy that will allow us to deep dive the complexity of change comes to us via the medical world. An innovative approach devised to better diagnose and treat the problems of pain that many patients endure.  An approach which they’ve termed pain mapping.

Too often, whether as doctors or as leaders of organizations, there has been this tendency to go straight to the point of pain. The problem with that diagnosis or approach is that the point of pain is not always the place from which the pain originates. For example, the problem may reside in the spine and yet the pain may eventually be generated out as headaches or leg pain. Which means treating the point of pain may alleviate the issues for a short time, it will just not effectively solve the underlying problem that leads to long-term healing and relief.

Pain mapping requires doctors to move past the veneer or point of pain, to truly determine the point of origin to better solve the problem and prevent reoccurring issues in the future. This requires more time and digging deeper to get at the very root of the problem to better determine the correct course of action or treatment.

For today’s organizations, pain mapping may serve as an appropriate tool or strategy for dealing with the complexity of change. Too often we look for the quick or simple answer to the problems that plague us during volatile and turbulent times of change. Often leaving us reactive to the issues and problems that arise around us and within our organizations.

Pain mapping allows us to take a deep dive approach towards the problems that emerge during the change process so that we effectively move past the point of pain to get at the nerve points of origin. It is in this process that we not only begin to ask better questions, but build the capacity and patience to provide the solutions that get to the core of the issues and problems that plague our organizations and keep us from real progress. It is with this mindset that learn to move from pain masking to pain mapping.

“Our current designs are not adequate means for promoting the transformational learning that is necessary to meet adaptive challenges.”  -Kegan and Lahey via Immunity to Change


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