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Senior Correspondent

Why Complexity Sucks

Why Complexity Sucks

©iStock.com/Сергей Хакимуллин

Complexity is in the eye of the beholder. To me, astrophysics is a complex discipline; to Stephen Hawking it is not. People engaged in complex situations fall into two categories: those who accept complexity as a fact of life and work with it, and those who fight it every inch of the way. I’m in that later camp.

In today’s business, complexity is prolific. There are hundreds of reasons why ambiguity and complication have reared their ugly heads to complicate your professional life — some of the reasons are externally-driven, but most are self-created — maybe not by you, but by people above and/or before you. If left unchecked, complexity can stifle, stagnate, and eventually bring an organization to its knees.

So what are you going to do about it? The ‘way’ to cut through the clutter is to simplify. I know; this is easier said than done. How do you simplify when the demands of customers, colleagues, and shareholders continue to escalate?

I’m suggesting that you ‘do less, better.’ This strategy requires sacrifice. Again, easier said than done. Dumping pet projects, reducing your customer list, or turning down new sales opportunities can be incredibly difficult to do. It can feel impossible to ‘think smaller’ when everyone around you is firmly entrenched in the ‘do more’ strategic paradigm.

To enact the ‘do less better’ strategy, you have to buy into the notion that 20% of your effort delivers 80% of the rewards. You focus on that 20% to generate a high ROE (return on effort). Doing less, better can work throughout an organization. It starts with the corporate strategy, and includes marketing strategy, and the all-important human resource strategy.

Unlike PepsiCo, Coca-Cola’s corporate strategy is to resist diversification and focus on non-alcoholic beverages. That singularity continues to deliver outstanding shareholder value. In marketing, great branding steers clear of multi-benefits; one clear, compelling benefit will find a place in busy minds. For effective workplace culture, Google promotes and supports openness in which everyone is encouraged to share ideas and opinions. In a nutshell, that’s the focus of Google’s HR strategy.

Doing less, better doesn’t mean doing less work. Those who are devoted to focus, work harder because they are passionate and emotionally-connected to the vision.

Bulldozing the walls of complexity in companies and departments never comes without sacrifice. The earlier and the bigger the sacrifice, the easier it gets afterward. Sacrifice must remain a part of the organization’s DNA to sustain competitive advantage. 

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