The Ceiling of Complexity

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July 2016

The Ceiling of Complexity

Ever seen someone stuck? It may have made absolutely no sense. They are bright, willing and hardworking yet for some reason they just can’t seem to get that thing accomplished. What’s going on here? They seem to want to go to that oft-referred-to next level. It can happen in many areas of one’s life. Anytime you or your team has a goal or pursuit that continues to remain out of reach, please consider the following:

Back in 1994, when first I was entering into the world of executive coaching, I was introduced to a concept called, The Ceiling of Complexity. Property of Coach Dan Sullivan of Toronto, The Ceiling of Complexity concept says that the reason a person, work group or team is blocked is that they are bumping into a Ceiling of Complexity. Their challenge or pursuit is simply too complex for them in their present state. That’s all. A refreshingly shameless concept. Once it is evident that a Ceiling of Complexity is present one might consider these two questions:

#1 – Of what is the Ceiling of Complexity comprised? Is it inadequate resources of time or money? Perhaps it’s experience, technology, skill-deficiency, organizational support or right strategy. Don’t forget to consider things like fear, information gaps, defective communication or unforeseen random events. Initially naming and identifying the ceiling is crucial and one may find that once the ceiling has been better defined, the less impediment-power it will actually possess. Gaining clarity about the Ceiling of Complexity is an endeavor that can take minutes or days.

#2 – Who finds this simple? The Ceiling of Complexity into which one or one’s team may be bumping does not represent unique ownership. They are unique and special, their ceiling is not. Many before them have dealt with and moved through this Ceiling of Complexity and have managed to render it simple. One must seek out and partner with, employ or contract those who will help reduce present-state complexity. One of the hallmarks of an emotionally intelligent leader is their ability to ask for help. They know what they don’t know.

So the reason next-level is next-level and not now level may be as simple as a ceiling. In addition to real progress, there is one more fruit of this coaching concept from Coach Sullivan. After a time, one simply stops having Ceilings of Complexity. An unhealthy loop is replaced by a healthy loop. Today’s complexity ceiling will become tomorrow’s complexity floor. Stymied and stuck become an outdated paradigm of the past.


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