Eric Berlow: How complexity leads to simplicity

Overview

This TED talk is about taking complex things and making them simple. It’s a great lesson for anyone who deals with complex things. (For example a manager or a doctor.)

Before you watch… (Discussion Questions) Questions to make watching the video easier

What complex problems do you have in your life?
Do you love complex things?
What are all the animals that live in or around a lake? What happens if you introduce a new fish?
What’s your strategy for organizing things?
What are the challenges of organizing a war?

Before you watch… (Vocabulary Prep) Questions to make learning the vocabulary easier

When was a time you felt overwhelmed? (A time you felt a lot of stress because you were so busy.)
What’s something you’ve made that was well-crafted? (Made well.)
Do you know someone who you’re interconnected to? (For example you work with them and you went to university together and you know their sister.)
Which country are you native to? (Where are you originally from?)
Where do you anticipate you’ll be living next year?
What predictions do you have for this/next year?
Can you think of a good insight you had recently? (You understood something well and therefore had a good ide.)
Do you know about Apple’s supply chain? How do they make computers?
Guess how many degrees of separation are between you and the president. (How close are you to knowing the president personally?)
Ridicule is when you make fun of someone or try to make a person look bad. Can you think of someone you’ve ridiculed?
What’s a recent project you really sunk your teeth into? (Became very interested in and tried hard to do well.)
Which terrain is better: a desert or a cold mountain?
Could you draw a diagram of a chair? A house? A car?
Can you think of a time something was worrying you but in the end it was OK. What happened? Why were you relieved?
Big changes can be hard, but sometimes we embrace change. What’s a change you accepted and enjoyed?

Before you watch… (Listening Prep) When asking these questions, emphasize how the words link together to the student.

What’s something you didn’t think of before starting your job? (or schooling?) “you didn’t think of” (at 1:19)
If you want to become a politician, what should you do? “if you want to” (at 1:33)
What are one or two things you do every morning? “one or two” (at 1:53)
How was the weather a couple months ago compared to today? “a couple months ago” (2:13)

Detail Questions #1 First set of detail questions

What is his goal for his talk?
What is his example of “complex”?
What is his example of “complicated”?
What is a “food web”?
What happens to the grayed-out species?
Why were the effects unanticipated?
What insights about complexity does he mention?
Why does he mention the flow of carbon through corporate supply chains and the interconnections of habitat patches for endangered species in Yosemite National Park?
Why should you hone in on a sphere of influence?
Usually, how many degrees away are the things that matter?
What complex problem does he present?
Why did the media ridicule it?
Why does he want to sink his teeth into the problem?
How does he change the U.S. government’s diagram?
What does the circled node indicate?
What does it mean for a node to be “not actionable”?
What is “fair, transparent economic development”?
How does he hope you’ll react to to complex diagrams in the future?

Detail Questions #2 Second set of detail questions. (Meant for a follow-up lesson.)

How long will he speak?
What is his job?
Which food web does he show?
What does it mean to be on the brink of extinction?
What insights about complexity does he mention?
What’s the difference between “one link” and a “sphere of influence”?
How does embracing complexity help you find simple answers?
What complex problem is courtesy of the U.S. government?
What was the U.S. government’s goal?
Does he think it’s a complicated problem?
What does the circled node indicate?
What are examples of nodes that are not actionable?
What is “provisioning of services”?
Why does he hope you’ll be excited by complex diagrams in the future?

Detail Questions #3 Third set of detail questions. (Meant for a follow-up lesson.)

What is his example of “complex”?
What does he study?
What does it mean to stock a lake with non-native fish?
Why is it surprising that lakes with fish have more mosquitos?
How can good visualisations tools help with complex problems?
Why should you hone in on a sphere of influence?
What does it mean to switch gears?
Which newspaper reported the complex chart about the war in Afghanistan?
Was the goal in Afghanistan a complex problem?
What’s the difference between a spaghetti diagram and an ordered network?
What’s the first step in order to eliminate three-quarters of the diagram?
What is “active engagement with ethnic rivalries and religious beliefs”?
How much time did he spend to decipher the diagram?
Why is it important to zoom out and embrace complexity?

Follow-up Questions #1

Do complex problems excite you?
Was this talk helpful to you personally? How?
What’s an organization chart?
What does the organization chart look like at your job?
Which do you think is more important: active engagement with ethnic rivalries and religious beliefs OR fair, transparent economic development and provisioning of services.

Follow-up Questions #2

How do people normally approach complex problems? How is his advice different? Give an example to support your answer.
What’s a complex problem that you’ve solved?
What problems do you imagine a big supply chain company such as Apple has? How might they use the advice in this video?
What complicated things are you good at?
What complicated things are you bad at?

Follow-up Questions #3

Who do you know that is good at solving complex problems? Who are they? What do they do? Why are they good at?
How about the opposite? Who do you know that is bad at solving complex problems? Who are they? What do they do? Why are they bad at it?
Is problem solving something that schools teach well? Why/why not?
What professions need good problem solving skills?
What’s more important when solving a problem at work: leadership or good analytic skills?

Homework #1 (Write Something)

Write 1-2 pages. Answer the following questions. Try to use vocabulary from the video.

Think of a complex problem you know about. Describe the problem. If you have solved it, describe how you solved it. If you haven’t solved it, describe you plan for solving it.

Homework #2 (Read Something)

Read the comments below the video. Find five that are interesting to you. Be ready to describe them in the next session.

Homework #3 (Say Something)

Choose five new vocabulary words from this video. Find a friend or a colleague and teach them the words. Use English to explain what the words mean.

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