If you want to understand the meaning of complexity, get two families with young (opinionated) children together and try to figure out where to go for a dinner. Make sure the decision both satisfies feeding the kids something they like AND provides for the parents to have a chance to chat. And they said nuclear disarmament was hard.
If you want to solve a similar problem at work – or with any other complex group decision, it can help to understand the differences between context and content.
Content is what we’re talking about. In the family example, it’s about food, location, and criteria.
Context is how we are talking about the content. In the example, it’s about the setting and achievable ambiance by which dinner is going to hopefully (err… realistically?) play out.
When a decision has to be made, sometimes we’ll get stuck on content. It usually happens because these are the details that seemingly are also deal-breakers.
To the extent we can separate out what content we must include, we want to get them off the table and then broaden our lens to context (ex. kid food that’s served quickly might be the dealbreaker, but debating who has the best chicken nuggets and french fries might not be as critical).
Context is where acceptable compromises live. They’ve got give and take. They’ve got loads of grey, but hey, that’s the real world for you.
Content is real stuff. Context is the reality real stuff lives in. Differentiating between the two next time you make a decision can help focus the conversation and keep it moving forward.
I got this idea from one of my favorite books of the year – “The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership.”