The amount of crisis and dramatic change around the world this year has been incredible. We are facing unprecedented situations like political upheaval in the Middle East and the downgrading of the U.S. credit rating. Our global physical environment is unstable— with increasing numbers of earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes. It’s easy to feel powerless. What can you as a responsible leader do to make a difference in situations like this? I have a three-part response that I call the “Triad of Irreducible Complexity.”
The three parts go together – you must do them all. First, BE REALISTIC. Study and understand what is. Know that your contribution alone may not turn the tide and that the tide may not turn for a long time. Second, BE HOPEFUL. Hold a vision that things can and will change for the better. Picture a time when the change you want has already happened. Third, DO WHAT YOU CAN. Do everything possible that is within your domain to make a difference, no matter how big or small. Act in service to the change you seek.
Let’s take a specific situation to see this in action. After a visit to my daughter last month in Chile, it seems unavoidable for me to choose air quality. The capital city of Santiago is often listed as one of the ten cities with the worst air. When I was there, the government issued one of its pre-emergency edicts— limiting automobiles on the road. When 7.2 million people live in a basin between the Chilean Coastal Range and the Andes, it is tough to avoid pollution.
Over the last century, wise governmental leaders saw what was happening as the city developed. They were realistic about the impact of growth and were hopeful about the positive impact of public transportation. The Santiago Metro was completed in the ’70s and an upgrade of the bus fleet was finished last year. Today, many citizens of Santiago use public transportation every day. A public health alert system was created. Some residents now wear masks to protect themselves. These actions did not eliminate the pollution problem. But they ARE making a difference. Santiago’s leaders and its citizens are making a difference for themselves and their community.
Halfway around the world in the Philippines, another realistic and hopeful—and very creative—approach to air pollution has taken shape. The Coca-Cola Company partnered with the World Wildlife Foundation to create a living, breathing advertisement. This 60 foot tall billboard is composed of recycled Coca-Cola bottles growing tea plants. The installation is expected to annually remove “46,800 pounds of carbon dioxide from the city’s air.” I call this an innovative application of the Triad of Irreducible Complexity—and a successful bid to make a difference.
In my work, I have used the Triad of Irreducible Complexity to develop appropriate interventions for clients, to regulate my emotions in highly charged situations, and to organize my own time:
Do What You Can.
How could you apply it in your work and your life?