My inspiration today is to discuss complexity in organizations and your role as a leader in NOT creating more complexity that will most likely lead to complications.

But first let’s start on a slippery road by defining complex vs complicated.

There are a gazillion opinions out there about which is which. Some come from a systems approach some come from grammar. Let me propose mine, I agree with yours also, no worries.

This is for clarity of the rest of the article it’s not to have an argument or an attempt on my part to convince you that I am right. Like I said on my last podcast: it’s not important to be right. I find that powerful and peaceful.

Back to our subject, I like this definition from my friend Doc Ayomide:

Something “complex” involves many things.

Something “complicated” involves extra things.

Simple eh?

So. Many things are complex, actually perhaps everything is…We could do a PhD on that subject but we won’t right now.

Take an airplane for example. If you work for a company that makes them, you have a complex product to make right? On top of the complexity of the product itself, there is the complexity of getting it certified, making sure it is totally safe, getting it to market on time, servicing it and so on.

If your organization is building complex products (aren’t they all?), it does not mean the place has to become complicated.

You have a hint of “complicated” when:

  1. It takes a 30 minutes discussion to describe and fully understand the new org chart being proposed (go back and do your homework)
  2. A simple strategy is being proposed and now everyone around the table is proposing to make it better by adding all kinds of crazy widgets, steps, security etc. Now we get confused and the thing is officially complicated
  3. The same subject is being discussed weekly but never fully understood by the group that needs to handle it. We’re always in a state of confusion.

I could add more and more but you get the gist.

As a leader, it is your role to simplify aspects of the business for your team. You must be able to explain clearly and simply strategies, products, customer needs even if in fact they are complex.

It is your role to go for simple rather than to add details upon details of improvements that make for delays and create complications.

If you addressing yourself to your boss or the executives, then please master the art of executive summary.

It is your role to cut through the unnecessary and to help your team adjust and perform.

If you’re the one always suggesting improvements, you’re possibly creating complications for your peers and team.

If you’re not able to explain clearly to your team what it is that is expected of them, you may be creating complicated puzzles for them to solve in order to do their work.

Simplicity Reflexes

Here’s a few simplicity reflexes. Remember simple does not mean easy. It just means that there is no fluff, no extra paddings for security, no endless buffers “in case of”.

If someone asks you to write a policy/process on a given subject: aim for a one pager

  1. If you need to do an org chart, make sure a 12 year old can understand who reports to who.
  2. If you need to lead a complex change (aren’t they all?), have your What, your Big Why and your top 3 key messages and don’t confuse everyone with the 1500 other details.
  3. Understand which details should stay behind the scenes and which details should go front stage. Again, this is pertinent when doing an executive summary.
  4. If your mind is not crystal clear with simple words (notice I said “words” not “concepts”) to express your vision, you’re not ready to onboard people yet. You will confuse them.
  5. Don’t talk about concepts. People get confused with concepts because they all craft their own understanding of it. Just use words to express concrete aspects of work. The concepts stay behind the scene (keep them for you). For example, the other day I heard “We’re going to make this company lean” and then next thing you hear everyone is enrolled in a Lean/Agile training course. Well, now everyone is confused. Lean and Agile are concepts and people need to understand Why they must go to the course before they can actually learn anything.
  6. Take time to explain, re-explain and do it again using the same What, Why and Key messages.

Ok, that’s enough for now.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you find complicated. Also, let me know your approach to keeping things simple. I make a collection of simple, efficient reflexes.