While the shift to new technology, AI and automation is transforming jobs, opportunities have opened for us to exercise our natural strengths.

According to the World Economic Forum, complex problem-solving is the number one skill you’ll need in the fourth industrial revolution. As processes become automated, the human ability to learn this skill is needed more than ever. Sports can teach you how.

Complex vs complicated problems

To understand complex problem-solving, we have to know the difference between complex and complicated problems.

Having a broken smartwatch is a complicated problem. Because someone out there has the knowledge of the device to fix it. With complex problems, there are always unpredictable unknowns like human involvement or the weather.

Looking to the future, in business, complicated problems will be handled by machines, through automation. But the responsibility to tackle the complex problems will be down to the human workforce.

That is why the next step is to learn how to do just that.  

Learn from your body – the human advantage

Luckily, your body started solving complex problems before you were even aware of it. Balancing your center of gravity while standing on your two feet is one of them. Organizing all your bones, joints, muscles and body parts involves such variables and options, yet you’re just able to do it.

Three steps to learn complex problem-solving from your body

1. Become a mindful observer

Whenever you learn a new movement – whether it is balancing on a slackline, the handstand or a rugby tackle – carefully observe your body’s reaction. Be careful to not overthink, merely observe. You’ll be surprised how fast your body improves – even though you don’t fully grasp the complexity of the problem.

Benjamin Jaksch Sports Complex Problem Solving adidas 3
Movements such as balancing yourself helps you mindfully observe your body.

Many challenging situations and conflicts in business escalate because we tend to take things personally.

2. Identify essential facts

While all complex problems are mostly unpredictable, they have one thing in common: essential facts forming a line between failure and success.

Benjamin Jaksch Sports Complex Problem Solving adidas 2
When you engage in new athletic activities, identify the essentials in them.

Learn to pay attention and identify the facts in your complex problem. Take balancing on a slackline: It’s a fact that the closer your hips get to the slackline, the easier it will be for you to balance. At the same time, this will be more strenuous for your thigh muscles. The solution, therefore, will be somewhere in-between.

For instance, this can help you to negotiate a conflict of interest between colleagues. Since you will identify the core of the problem, you’re able to communicate constructively, because you’re able to distinguish between assumptions and essential facts.

3. Fill the gaps with creativity

As you narrow down the essential facts of the problem, you will discover the ‘space within’: This is where possible solutions are.

Take one of the earliest complex problems of a human being – getting up from the ground to standing upright.

What are the facts? You need to work against gravity in order to get up. Which muscles you use in what order, that is already part of a solution. Take how toddlers manage to get up for the first time (with their butt high up while their hands are still on the ground) compared to adults, whose heads are up first.

Try it yourself – take three to five minutes to explore how many ways you can find to get up from the floor. You’ll be surprised by your creativity if you don’t get caught up in previous solutions and focus only on working against gravity.

Benjamin Jaksch Sports Complex Problem Solving adidas 1
Try it yourself: get up from the floor in the most creative way you could think of.

Practicing your creativity helps you focus. Rather than focusing on the characteristics of the problem itself (leading you to more obstacles), focus on ‘the space’ for possible solutions.
In my opinion, humans are designed to solve complex problems – the first industrialization has just taught us to focus more on complicated ones.

The better you become at complex problem-solving, the more invaluable you will be to any business. Over time, your area of expertise and your strengths will become more evident, if you get the chance to find creative solutions for challenging situations. By doing this, your role will change according to your skills and capabilities, as your employer will recognize the most efficient way to leverage your potential.

You might think: “How can I start?”. Look for a cognitively challenging discipline – anything from team sports, martial arts, weightlifting to climbing, parkour or dancing. Learn to consciously listen and watch your body as you learn new moves.

Follow the three steps and repeat them over and over. As you gain more awareness of your body’s complex problem-solving skills, you will be able to transfer these skills to your life.


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by Sina 22.08.2019
Great examples of how to step by step tackle complex problems! Thanks for sharing Benjamin.
by Alex Ahom 27.08.2019
An active body can help stimulate an active mind. Then identifying problems can become easier - the first step to solving a problem is recognising and admitting there is one.
by oulhakem 27.08.2019
by jeroen Rozeboom 28.08.2019
Great analogies Benjamin!

In addition to your arguments I think that most of the essential facts will be delivered by machines as well, for us to place in a human context: what solution will solve the true cause problem in such a way that humans find acceptable?

Then humans can interpret the results and if needed adapt the solution in line with that same human context.
by Benjamin Jaksch jeroen Rozeboom 28.08.2019
Fully agree with you - so we can focus more on what’s really HUMAN again.
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