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How do I get across the road safely? Or how to be better at mastering complexity?

Have you ever been to Hanoi? Yes? Then, you should be familiar with the constant flow of vehicles on the streets of Hanoi. This photo is not mine, but it illustrates the complex traffic in Hanoi. And this is one of the smaller streets. There is no gap in the traffic there, not a moment without a vehicle, without a car, certainly not without a moped. If you want to explore the city, you inevitably have to cross these streets. The question is how?

"Look for a traffic light." Basically, it's an excellent idea and ideally suited to our culture. In Vietnam, the rules (also in traffic) are all but such a thing. A traffic light indicates possible options; it makes suggestions. No more and no less. In plain language, this means that nobody cares about the display of a traffic light. We tried it and were just as amazed at the never-ending stream of vehicles at a green traffic light for us pedestrians. So, if not traffic lights, then what?

"Do it like this, look for a gap, and quickly scurry across the street." It's a great idea and ideally suited to our culture, but not so much in Vietnam. Firstly, there is no gap (see photo), and secondly, that would disrupt the flow and lead to severe irritation for everyone involved. I tried it, but it doesn't work. If not scurry, then what?

"Recognize the pattern and just go with it."

That is precisely the solution. In concrete terms, you walk slowly and firmly across the street. Don't you believe? But it is like that. As a pedestrian, you simply become part of the system. The slow movements ensure that you are predictable for others and that all vehicles can drive around you. This feels moderately scary (for the first 3-4 streets) and is the opposite of the trained impulse to act, but it works.

What road users do in a city like Hanoi is "mastering complexity in practice."

Chaos would arise if the traffic were not in this constant flow (disregarding all the rules, such as driving on the right, staying in the lane, stopping at the red light, etc.). Many traffic jams would be inevitable, and perhaps the number of traffic accidents would be even higher (it is not low anyway). Hanoi hardly has the opportunity to upgrade its infrastructure to keep its road traffic more complicated (like ours) than complex. There are too few roads, they are all too narrow, there are too many vehicles, and there is no money.

However, A crucial thing at this point is people's behavior in this busy traffic. There is a lot of honking - short, double, long, triple. In Germany, people honk to reprimand someone else and vent their anger. In Vietnam, honking is a sophisticated communication system. It serves to provide information about your behavior. Nobody feels bullied (exceptions prove the rule) when they are honked at. The basis for this type of communication to work is cooperation. This is the most crucial characteristic of the behavior of the people there. Moving around in traffic happens 'with others,' not 'against others.' A significant difference to our traffic culture and the essential basis for mastering complex situations in teams. Only with cooperation can the flow be created on streets that are too small and have too many participants.

That means that in the streets of Hanoi, you can learn and reflect on a lot about working with people in complex contexts:

  • My attitude with which I approach the situation (cooperation vs. competition).

  • I need valid experiments to find the "correct" pattern (traffic light, gap, participation).

  • Sometimes, breaking the rules is the way to make the system work.

  • It is not always possible to translate the complex into the complicated to work with analyses.

  • Sometimes, you need new behavior patterns to master the complexity.

I would like the essential attitude of the people on Hanoi's streets to be the basis for our projects - cooperation.

With this in mind... I wish you successful work.

If you are interested to find out more on the practical discourse drop us a line via or contact us to schedule an Experience Session now.


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