Mastering complexity with grace

Many articles and books have been published on the questions how to master complexity,  that I don’t want to repeat here. I will share with you the ONE major learning extracted from my last years of working in the field of organization and complexity: you can not master complexity with complex systems (theories) or with complicatedness. The art to deal in an elegant and lighfooted way is by using the principles of SIMPLICITY and REDUCTION.

Why? Imagine you are driving a car in heavy traffic, everything is in a dynamic move, you cannot oversee the situation, not foresee what happens next. In this very complex and dynamic moment you can get really stressed, everything is fast und you need to make instant decisions. What saves the situation from heading towards death and chaos are simple and universal rules, everyone can remember: e.g. that the person coming from right (or left) is given precedence.

The same is valid for managing complexity in organizations – increasingly volatile and complex situations can be mastered gracefully by the usage of simple the tools, rules and thinking:

120 Pages of strategy?  3-5 main strategic directions (1 sentence each) will be more than enough to give orientation. 35 KPIs? Broken down for each level?  You are producing an unnecessary (?) reporting beast, creating more and more complexity, you cannot use anyway. Think about 3 KPIs that are really meaningful. Travel regulations, Bonus systems you need experts for to understand and manage? Stop it. Invent 2 guidelines and 1 system. The idea to make it “fair” and “transparent” leads to hell of a work, frustration and inequality. People will be dissatisfied anyhow. Complicated processes that pre-define all possible situations? Complicated decision procedures over 6 layers? Huge structures? YOU ARE TOO SLOW!! TOO COMPLICATED!! NOT ELEGANT AT ALL!!

Less is more and more is less. We strongly recommend to define only what really needs to be defined and to use the most simplest words and approach you can imagine. Everything else will be written and forgotten, or will lead to extremely slow processes.

This might sound easy, nevertheless reduction and simplicity can be very challenging, more than complicatedness. Simplicity requires a clear mind, focus, prioritization and the development and learning of new practices. And last but not least the courage to enter new territories and deal with the irritation, it might cause with others, as in many cases people feel confronted by an uncommon practice.

Even and especially when dealing with large organizations, reduction and simplicity are incredibly powerful principles and we see the direct results and feedback from people, that are oriented, empowered and aligned in a world, that can not be managed by prediction and control.