Complexity. It can not be made simple.
It can only be simplified. For specific communication purposes. Some of it can be addressed in simple ways. When all of it is addressed in a simple way, that is a stand…to not actually resolve it, and just address it.
When Hustlers Private Limited got a whiff that their competition had pumped a huge amount in research around digital future over last 5 years, the management panicked. An urgent video conference became the nightmare for all personal assistants juggling with tightly packed schedules around the year end.
After beating the dead horse of lapse in competitor intelligence, everyone now competed to throw an obscene amount to be allocated for digital research, for an accelerated product development in next two quarters. A novice at this game, the CFO was also doing well for a change! A sub-committee was to flesh out the roadmap and carve the milestones around it in the next two months.
It was then that the worst blow came from the quietest and youngest member of the group: two other challengers from the industry were in go-to market readiness in a few months. That this information bomb was dropped just before the lunch did not help anyone’s appetite.
Back from lunch, no one really had any thoughts to offer. Except the CFO. His suggestion was simple: divert all funding from research to pick-up off the shelf products on digital. In case of a near readiness product line and robust strategic portfolio, buy out smaller firms and assimilate. The bill: two and half times the most obscene figure that came up earlier. Extraordinary Board approval, which would now know of the lapses and would grill the leadership on hot coals, looked ineveitable.
Executive Decision. Big, but simple, as far as information processing is concerned.
Complexity addressed simply. All of it. A stand.
Three quarters down the line, Hustler is still without any respectable digital portfolio. The acquisitions got in the much needed products, but their utilisation did not take off with the different units. Platforms did not sync and the initial bugs took away the momentum. The experts from Hustler could not understand the ad-hoc ways in which the newly acquired products were put together. The teams from the newly acquired smaller companies felt lost in the procedures and useless drills. They quit en masse, leaving behind precious little knowledge to figure things out.
The extent and scope complexity was missed by a mile. The stand did get implemented,but only upto the financials. The simplicity of firefighting at top level was not extended to implementation freedom,
Complexity emerged back. As wrongly addressed.
(The spelling of the heading is how most people know and address complexity – with a lazy eye!)
Complexity. It can not be solved.
So don’t even try! It needs resolution; to be addressed in distinct ways, multiple ways. Some of these resolutions with simple solutions in series, or iteratively. Some other, not-so-simple, parts with simple solutions in parallel. But the most critical parts, with a holistic, systems approach.
It is this last one that is almost always missed out by the worshippers of keeping things simple. Sad.
Think of IBM. How beautifully the elephant danced. It was only because all the three were in place for one of the most complex changes corporate world has seen.
When Tandem Ltd. decided to integrate its three designing units under one business unit, not everything went hunky dory. As it is ,designers were a difficult breed, as all experts are for the professional supervisors! When the integration was being done, a neat plan flowed through.
There were incremental changes introduced in the way projects were procured and executed, such that there was eventual baselining on quality and of Tandem signature on deliveries across board.
There were parallel events: town halls, meetings and hackathon, to address the impact of this alignment and prepare for it.
Except that the most critical piece of systems thinking was missed out. And the integration collapsed. Details do not matter but things like interdependencies were neither addressed, nor created and leveraged! The softer aspect of dignity and belongingness for the people translated into their identity. There was no reintegration in the bigger unit which made most people feel uprooted. The possibility of complex projects involving two or three different designing approaches was never experimented internally before going to the clients. 🙁
Complexity. It needs emergent responses.
Emergent translates for most as uncertain, and the world fears uncertainty. Complexity is again addressed wrongly as Chaos and addressed with decisiveness, while emergent responsiveness is ignored again. Sadder.
A neat responsiveness was shown by Pantaloons as it traversed the retail garment space in India from 1997. While it was clear that Retail was going to be the next big wave, the uniqueness was unpredictable. As a leader and pioneer, future group initiated many firsts like multi-tiered consumer loyalty programs.
At the same time, it was also nimble in changing the course of the specific merchandise and its sales approaches as the market revealed itself. While consulted, international trends were never directly downloaded.
On the ground, there was sufficient freedom for the stores to be responsive to the market, within very broad guidelines. A non-intrusive service emerged, which was more palatable for the Great Indian Middle Class, rather than the eager support at say, Shoppers Stop.
(To bring the saga to an interesting twist, Pantaloons was sold off to the old guard! Not before showing many new ways of doing traditional business.)
Pantaloons also demonstrated that the emergent responses can work only when these percolated down to the front lines.
At RigorM Ltd however things didn’t go so well. Growth was never a concern for the first fifteen years of its existence. The founders enjoyed the ride until the coffers started busting at the seams. Financial jugglery was saturated and organisational changes were inevitable.
In a clearly thought out decision, professional management was infused from the outside. The new executives came in with their own teams they could rely on.
When the new teams and new ways of approaching things started mixing in with established practices, the things on the ground did not look very happy. The entire supply chain was getting used to new processes. Things were not moving. Supply was dragging. And so were collections. The results were clearly visible in the very first quarter.
Everyone in the chain had known one or more of the first or second line executives. They started picking up the phone and calling. The seasoned old timers, of course, could not have allowed this chaos to continue. They took care of the indecisiveness prevailing at all levels to demonstrate decisiveness. Things did move. And processes compromised. And along with it the authority and credibility of the new office holders.
The ripple spread. More and more people started taking exceptions instead of aligning to the learning curve of the new processes.The balance sheet spiked a little, the decisive brigade smugly looked at its realm.
They still blame the blunders of the outsiders which forced them to sell the company a year later. 🙁 🙁
Just because you don’t understand it, does not mean it is worthless. Just because a lot of people don’t get it, and they all agree that it doesn’t make much sense, also doesn’t make it any less valuable.
Complexity is not bad. Nor dysfunctional. Complexity can be epitome efficient and even beautiful. Like these complex patterns used in this post, embroideries of Complex Patterns found in nature, by visual artist Meredith Woolnough.
But we kill complexity as soon as it gives us anxiety. To use the cruelest expression for it, “nip it at in the bud!”
And along with it, all the beautiful and expanded possibilities. Simply (!) because we can’t handle that anxiety nor let anyone who can, handle it.
Even in Human Systems. Especially in Human Systems. Saddest. 🙁 :-(:-(