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There has been a bit of a gap between parts 2 and 3 of this little series on clarity so let’s recap. These thoughts stem from a year of struggling with some complex challenges especially culminating at the end of the year. I have learnt much from this experience and am distilling this here as a form of clarity for myself and others.

My experiences this year taught me that it is very easy to over-complicate things. Keeping things simple is a very powerful cut-through tool to keep a focus on solving issues. So my suggestions for moving forward are to find the one clear thing that is the essence of what you are trying to do or solve. The one clear thing emerges for me as:

  1. Finding the single question to ask that will answer much in its wake
  2. Identifying the essential work that needs to be done to answer it
  3. Putting in place the daily steps to get there and keep moving

Let’s think here about the essential work. Once you have identified the single question to ask, then you need to identify the essential work to be done to answer it. The key word here is ‘essential‘. It’s so easy to get side-tracked and over-complicate at this stage. So, at this point, identify the essential work that needs to be done to reach your goal or answer your question.

Examples of questions to ask at this point to identify or begin the essential work include:

  • How do we isolate the critical work to be done?
  • What data would provide clarity?
  • What tools would really help move through this block?
  • What’s the one change that would make the biggest difference?
  • What are the essential priority tasks to be completed now?
  • What is the immediate step forward to achieve this?
  • What’s the one real block to moving on?
  • Which critical people could help solve this issue?

Focused thought on these or similar questions can help you move through issues that are often quite simple and apparent but have become complex and muddy. If we can step away for some higher level thinking and rise above the detail, we can get a clearer view.

Talking to critical others can also be of great assistance: trusted friends, coaches, mentors, external customers and other stakeholders. Sometimes we are simply too close. A quick, sharply focused survey might assist for feedback to get improved clarity.

Mind-mapping, brain-storming and other problem-solving tools can also be of great value at this point. I have had a lot of success with Appreciative Inquiry as an overall framework for moving forward through complex situations as it focuses on the positive and what the future might look like. The four steps of Appreciative Inquiry are in themselves tools for identifying the essential work and getting a roadmap for moving forward.

Looking for the essential work, the key question and how to answer it, can also help overcome resistance, as complexity and murkiness are in themselves engaging and can stop resolution of issues. You can find yourself easily stuck and doing a lot of busywork and conceptualising and achieve very little.

What’s the essential work for you at present? How can you progress it?

Image, The sky is clear now by vincepal from flickr and used under a Creative Commons license with thanks