I was prompted by Stuart’s blog to dig a little deeper into one of the learnings from the pandemic.

“Just try stuff” was about recognising that a key characteristic of a complex situation like a pandemic is uncertainty about what to do, and about the only thing you can do is to try something and see what works.

We have seen that happening constantly through the last 18 months, both in responding to the health crisis, and also dealing with the social and economic consequences.

What has been interesting to me has been the shift from an initial belief that we knew what to do and could predict and plan actions, to a growing realisation in the value of trying a range of approaches, while keeping a close eye on the results, and then modifying quickly based on the results.

Now while it did seem a bit like they were “experimenting” on us, there is little doubt that keeping everyone as safe as they could while learning what worked has been a feature of the response worldwide.

And while our leaders have copped some criticism for their approaches- slow to respond, inconsistent, etc, perhaps they were being judged by conventional thinking that just doesn’t work when challenged by this level of unprecedented complexity.

The features I think we learned around action planning that we can take into our ongoing co-design activities include:

  • feeling a bit uncertain is a characteristic of tackling complex situations
  • it’s OK to be unsure what to try next
  • letting go of the “right answer” is hard but appropriate
  • multiple small and short “experiments” make much more sense when tackling complexity
  • keeping the activities “safe to learn” is key to gaining support
  • reviewing progress regularly against the goals provides confidence
  • and not being afraid of ending something and trying something else based on the results

So while we still haven’t yet “solved” the pandemic, it has allowed our political, business, health and community leaders to see that “trying stuff” rather than always knowing what to do is a useful alternative approach in our complex and ever changing world.