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Learning from the Korean 'Miracle'

Jim Yong Kim's picture

SEOUL, Republic of Korea — I was born in this country in 1959, a time when the per capita income was not much more than $100. Today, Korea's gross national income is roughly $23,000 per person. Everywhere I travel in the developing world, leaders ask me, how did Korea lift itself out of such dire straits? One of the reasons is that many Koreans are never satisfied with success; they always seek improvement. Watch this blog to learn more.

Complicated vs. Complex, Part II: Solving the World’s Most Difficult Challenges

Aleem Walji's picture
Confronting the hardest problems on the planet requires humility to admit that we don’t know many answers when we start and sometimes we don’t even know the right problem to work on. If we address symptoms rather than root causes, we can exacerbate conditions. Penalizing teachers for example for not coming to school may ignore very real issues related to over-crowded classrooms, transport or meager wages for educators. If you start with the wrong problem, you’ll certainly propose the wrong solution.
 
What would it take to accept that most of the problems we encounter in development require listening better to end-users, learning about technical and political obstacles, and an ability to course correct when conditions change? That requires flexibility, faster response times, and treating beneficiaries as partners in solving complex problems.
 
I recently blogged on the difference between complicated and complex systems: the importance of identifying each to solve problems and particularly to scale solutions. What follows is a brief description of what makes a system complicated or complex and why it matters. 

  Complicated Complex
In planning
  • Describe What; dictate How
  • Focus on details
  • Coordinate everything centrally
  • Deliberate tradeoffs
  • Solution is often reached through a series of algorithms
  • Describe What but not How
  • Only key details—the fewer, the better
  • Limit central coordination to what’s absolutely necessary
  • Tradeoffs not always foreseeable, and they can shift over time
Goal Optimal solution Good enough to learn from and adjust
Focus on All the details Potential side effects
During execution
  • Make sure plan is adhered to
  • Adjust to make things more efficient
  • Compliance 
  • Measure results against all desired outcomes
  • Don’t get attached to any particular course of action
  • Adjust constantly and learn

Complicated vs. Complex Part I: Why Is Scaling Up So Elusive in Development: What Can Be Done?

Aleem Walji's picture

I recently had an opportunity to listen to retired army Colonel, Casey Haskins talk about what he learned about winning hearts and minds. Our conversation crossed strategy, history and eventually physics as he explained how states of matter relate to systems change. Understanding whether matter is solid, liquid, gas, or plasma greatly affects how you interact with it and ultimately how you can change it.
 
So what does this have to do with scale, global development and solving the world’s hardest problems? Quite a lot, I think. The four states of matter correspond to complex social systems.
 
Dave Snowden’s research describes problems or systems as either (i) simple - in which the relationship between cause and effect is obvious and we can generate best practice; (ii) complicated – in which the relationship between cause and effect requires expert knowledge and good practice; (iii) complex – in which the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect and we use emergent practice; and (iv) chaotic – in which there is no relationship between cause and effect.