Article: Take on your own complexity

HR Technology

Take on your own complexity

People Matters TechHR kick off was on skills required to navigating complexity.
Take on your own complexity

On August 1, we kicked off Asia’s largest HR & Work Tech conference: People Matters TechHR 2019. On the first day of our 3-day conference, leaders and influencers from around the world discussed innovative ways to progress in a world of increasing complexity and how to future-proof HR teams in readiness for this transformation. 


We hosted over 3,000 attendees, 138 partners, 153 speakers, 35 HR tech startups, 20 mentors and investors, and 53 Million media impressions, each bringing the best in content to cover “Performance and Productivity” on Day 1 and “Innovation and Growth” on Day 2. 

I was delighted to see so many influential people in one room. A complete package for talent leaders, the conference included exclusive keynote sessions, panel discussions, masterclasses, Ideas for the Future zone, a confluence of HR tech start-ups followed by the TechHR Night Fest and an added half-day of workshops. The interactive sessions were focused on technology and how digital disruption has transformed the landscape of human resource globally.

At the conference, we also unveiled an exclusive research report, “People Matters State of HR Technology India 2019-20”. The research draws together many of the facets discussed at the conference, as well as exclusive insights into how over 250 of India’s organizations have evolved in their digital agendas. 

Complexity is the new reality

All of us - myself included - have navigated complexity in our lives. However, “navigated” implies we have a degree of control. In actual fact, more often than not, we have “survived” complexity, moved through its challenges and come out the other side of the tunnel – often more by luck than by design. With this in mind, the central question of my opening speech was this: how and through what processes do we seek to truly navigate complexity?

I opened the conference with the story of Alex Honnold, a free-climber who successfully navigated the immense El Capitan rock formation after seven years of trying and almost dying in the process. In the context of our business, I believe we are also on that vertical wall, watching as things change around us.

Technology is radically impacting the nature of our jobs, our skills, and our organizations. In this uncertain time, I believe we have three choices:

1. Cling: Go through that complexity by design and hope some of us will survive.

2. Fall: Say “this is overwhelming, I can’t do anything about it.”

3. Climb: Truly prepare - not only our skills and our behaviors but our mindset to be able to climb through that complexity. 

From learning new skills to adopting new roles to starting transformation journeys, I believe we need to choose how we negotiate our own El Capitan in the world of business. Like Alex, we must employ determination, intent, perseverance, and hard work in order to achieve our biggest goals.

In some ways, everyone in the room at the People Matters Tech HR conference that day had opted to climb. 

The drivers of complexity 

We know complexity is the new reality, but what drives this change?

Klaus Schwab - Founder of the World Economic Forum - coined the terms velocity, multiplicity, and interconnectivity to describe today’s increasingly complex business environment: 


In today’s context, the unrelenting pace of change is exponential. Take the music industry: radio took 38 years to reach 50 million listeners. The iPod took just three years to reach the same number. In social media, Facebook took two years to reach 50 million users and Angry Birds only 35 days. What does that mean? We are driving in a car that is not equipped for these increasing levels of velocity. 


Small, localized events can have huge, international repercussions. In 2010, for example, a small volcanic eruption in Iceland caused an entire shutdown of European airspace for six days. One event in the tiny nation of 300,000 created losses of approximately two billion USD for the airline industry. That is the butterfly effect: how things that are unrelated and look small can have a much larger effect than what we had estimated. 


In today’s world, the standard six degrees of separation have been shortened to one or two degrees. This means any local event can easily have global effects. For example, the 2008 crisis in the US subprime market became a global financial crisis with far-reaching implications across the world. Interconnectivity compounds complexity and exposes how essential it is to look at the complete picture, its networks and the nature of the interrelations. 

As we can see, these drivers of complexity have significant implications for how we do business. But what can we do, going forward? 

Reflections and actions: Need to build our capacity 

Complexity is our new normal, and we need to make sense of it, master it and build our capacity to navigate it. If complexity is inevitable, then the question is: how do we become masters at navigating it? In preparation for his climb, Alex built his capacity - physically, mentally and emotionally. As business leaders, we need to build capacity not only in ourselves but in our people - in order for our organizations to adapt continuously, learn speedily and maximize the chances of seizing fleeting opportunities. To build capacity, we should do the following: 

  1. Knowledge, exposure, access. Alex memorized the topography of El Capitan, practiced his climbs and knew the mountain entirely. In a similar way, we must gain exposure to new solutions, new ways of thinking, new perspectives and at the same time, garner new tool and skillsets to implement these solutions in our organizations. Attending People Matters TechHR, I believe, displays this commitment to building capacity through knowledge and understanding. 
  2. Mindset to collaborate with your mind. Alex visualized himself conquering El Capitan and told his mind what he wanted to achieve. What is your personal El Capitan? Whether it is a new skillset, a new project, a new role or a new challenge, our mind responds to our words and our visuals. By picturing what we want, we set ourselves on the path to achieving it. 
  3. Make what's positive familiar, make what’s negative unfamiliar. Align yourself with what success looks like and make it familiar to you. Distance your mind from the negative and pursue the positive in all its complexity. 

Complexity is the new normal, but that doesn’t mean we cannot embrace it. What we make of complexity is our choice. By putting ourselves deliberately in the most stressful situations at the frontier, we accelerate our own process of excelling and as a result, we build that capacity. 

In the words of M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Travelled: “Abandon the urge to simplify everything, to look for formulas and easy answers, and to begin to think multidimensional, to glory in the mystery and paradoxes of life, not to be dismayed by the multitude of causes and consequences that are inherent in each experience - to appreciate the fact that life is complex.” 

Watch our complete opening keynote here.

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Topics: HR Technology, #TechHRIN

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