Although it doesn’t show up explicitly in any personality test, some people seem to be more prone to creating complexity than others.
Instead of cutting to the heart of an issue, they tangle it further; rather than narrowing down projects, they allow the scope to keep expanding –Ron Ashkenas
Are you a simplifier or a complexifier?
- Do you send emails that take people a long time to read and cc people in or even bcc them?
- Do you constantly strive to add new processes, products, or procedure?
- Do you hold recurring meetings with your team and involve yourself in every team decision?
- Do you constantly send people off to explore new concepts and research new ideas reporting back to you?
If you answered yes to more than two it’s likely you’re a complexifier. And in an increasingly complex world we need more simplifiers.
On Friday a couple of us were on stage at the ICC in Birmingham explaining to 1100 colleagues that the programme we are working on is less about transformation and more about simplification.
But if it’s just about being simple how come it’ll take up to five years to do it?
As Steve Jobs said, simple can be harder than complex. Most of our organisations default to the difficult for a reason – it’s easier.
The problems we were set up to solve were once relatively simple, but as organisations get larger there’s more technology, more people, more regulation. We put together processes, controls, reviews, and structures and these factors together create a great amount of complexity.
Unravelling this – at the same time as keeping business running as usual – is no easy task.
Last year we started the process of mass simplification of Bromford by asking leaders to define their service offerings in just 100 words. Some nailed it, some wrote a book, but the point was:
If you can’t describe what you’re there to do in ways a five year old could grasp – you’re probably making it too complex.
The key to solving complex problems may be to simplify as much as possible and approach them with a beginner’s mind. Without going all Zen Buddhist on you the concept of Shoshin means having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when approaching a subject.
Admittedly it’s hard to be Zen Like when faced with budget cuts, conflicting deadlines and change and transformation programmes – but many of our biggest problems need purposeful contemplation and new thinking. According to Shoshin thinking – in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.
Simplicity also means saying no to things and doing less. Many of an organisations activities are misaligned from , or have poorly defined, strategic objectives. We often anchor around the wrong thing. That’s why some big institutions have no chance – they are hit by random plans and transformations rather than anchoring around purpose and iteration.
This takes discipline though as it means killing vanity projects and saying no when something doesn’t fit into the plan
Ultimately simplification means making it easier for your people to get things done and for your customers and other partners to work with you.
As the world becomes more complex, simplifying strategy, leadership, decision-making and all of our communication becomes more important than ever.