Life is complex, business is challenging. If it were easy, it would already have been done a long time ago. The world is rapidly evolving, the old linkages are gone, the rules keep changing.

We live in a complicated reality. As a business, my company is continually faced with putting “old heads on young shoulders,” teaching judgment, the wisdom that comes from intelligently learning from experience and effective mentoring.

Experts can see subtleties and nuances that beginners can’t, which may lead to confusion:

“You said to do this.”

“Yes, most of the time but if ‘x’ happens do ‘y’ instead. Oh, and by the way, if ‘x’ and ‘z’ happen together, do this instead of the other.”


The decision tree quickly becomes complex, often beyond the possibility of reasonable documentation, and decisions frequently must be made in the field in real time, without the luxury of consultation.

A challenge we face is that for many, this is their first job post-college (where reality is frequently simplified in order to rapidly teach general principles) or their first position where they are pushed to perform at higher levels, performance that can’t be achieved by only operating at the simple base-rule level.

We use the concept of “the comma” to teach the process of dealing with a complex reality: For every bit of guidance, there is a counter thought. The wise use both to achieve balance.

The comma comes from Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “IF”:

“If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too.”

After a while, with enough effort, study, persistence, mentoring, and reflected-upon experience, wisdom emerges. Your intuition—the sum of all your learning—grows better, and you get a feeling that is close to feeling like instinct but isn’t: it is the fruit of your intelligent hard work to learn your craft at ever deeper levels of complexity.

Closing quotes:

“There’s no secret to balance. You just have to feel the waves”  – “Dune,” by Frank Herbert; 1920-1986

“I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”  — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.; 1841-1935, U.S. Supreme Court Justice from 1902 to 1932

“The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.”  — Theodore Isaac Rubin; b. 1923, psychiatrist and author