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Complexity Demands a Wider Field of View

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Sometimes the images from ENR's annual photo contest take you to completely different worlds in construction. You only need to reflect on a single week of work in any corner of the industry to appreciate that construction people come from many walks of life and carry out vastly different activities—and one activity can influence or affect another, even though there is apparently no direct connection between them. Similarly, there are few

straight lines any more in getting a project or a program or a company or a career from one place to another. We must sometimes loop and twist and circle in order to return to our chosen path and reach our goals.

Thus, the photographs in this issue provoke us to make new connections with feelings and ideas that are sometimes easily overlooked. One is an appreciation of the complexity and integrated nature of our decisions and actions as well as the potential of any one action to trigger future, unforeseen consequences.

Another is that linear cause-and-effect thinking may fail to anticipate all the possible outcomes of any one decision. It's important to keep our eyes and minds wide open.

The Yellowstone Elk

The analogy that best suits our point is a story about Yellowstone National Park and the decision, long ago, to sustain the elk population by feeding it. As the population swelled, the elk ate aspens that beavers used to build dams. Fewer beaver dams meant fewer riverine ponds in which trout could spawn. Consequently, the trout population began to decline. An investment strategist in the Harvard Business Review pointed out that, to everyone's surprise, "more elk equaled less trout."

Do the entanglements of all possible connections require us to calculate every decision with minute precision about every possible consequence? No. But they do inspire us to see how an early-phase decision about siting a new building will determine the materials needed to build or how a partnership that allows a company to enter one market may help point your company and your life in a completely different direction than you had first anticipated.


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