The Tyranny of Complexity

Why Do You Exist?

Leonardo da Vinci said it well – ‘simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication’. In more recent times, Ram Charan and Stephen M.R. Covey have delivered inspirational keynote presentations aimed at tackling today’s tyranny of complexity.

As such, I am in distinguished company when I contend that we have all made life unnecessarily complex. As business leaders, we have buried ourselves under a landslide of complexity, not only smothering our effectiveness, but also our innovation, our creativity, our vision. Above all, we have smothered our ability to grow our businesses, to secure greater market share, to multiply profits.

Let me introduce you to my distinguished company; they are some of today’s most influential thought-leaders, paradigm-shifting authors, and innovative business consultants.

Ram Charan

Ram Charan is a world-renowned author, business consultant and speaker. A prolific writer, he has penned 12 books since 1998, selling over two million copies in more than a dozen languages. Execution, which Ram co-authored with Honeywell CEO Larry Bossidy in 2002, was a #1 Wall Street Journal bestseller and spent more than 150 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. He is known for cutting through the complexity of running a business in today’s fast changing environment to uncover core business problems. He offers relevant, practical, and easy-to-implement solutions. If you haven’t already read his best-selling book Execution, I recommend that you pick up a copy today.

Stephen M.R. Covey

A highly sought-after keynote speaker, Stephen M.R. Covey is a compelling advisor on trust, ethics, leadership and high-performing teams. His paradigm-shifting novel, The Speed of Trust, challenges the assumption that trust is simply a soft, social virtue. Rather, Covey contends that trust is a hard economic driver. Importantly, complexity in the form of duplication and bureaucracy are a low-trust organisational tax. On the other hand, high trust makes businesses more profitable and people more promotable. He believes that establishing and fostering trust among all stakeholders is vital to leadership within the ever-growing global economy. Again, Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust is a must-read for any successful business leader.

The tyranny of complexity is a concept that can slowly creep up on a business, embedding itself like a cancer. As senior business leaders, we are (usually) all highly educated. With undergraduate degrees, MBAs and doctorates galore, complex theories and ideologies are often second nature to us. We like to put our expensive education to good use, implementing all the theoretical, academic teachings we grappled with at university. We actually enjoy making business processes, service delivery mechanisms and day-to-day operations complex … and in this regard other key stakeholders are also complicit, whether they be our bankers, investment community, regulators, professional advisors who all have their layers to add.

The problem: this complexity stunts our effectiveness and efficiency.

Complexity distracts what could be highly effective teams. Our teams become so distracted that they cannot serve the core purpose of our business. We all get so buried in the complexity of the ‘what’ that we lose sight of the ‘why’. As a result, we diminish the service that we are providing to our key clients and disrupt the working environment provided for our teams (the ‘who’).

I encourage my clients, especially those that feel overwhelmed with all the ‘stuff’ that they need to get through, to take a step back. Breathe. And then objectively review their business.

During this objective review, I encourage my clients to really strip back their business operations. Eradicate the complexity and start from the start. I ask my clients to honestly answer three key questions:

  1. What is the underlying purpose of your business? Why do you exist?
  2. What are the rules by which you live? What are your values?
  3. What is your long-term goal? Where do you want to be in 10+ years?

Once we have the fundamentals bedded down, it is much simpler to tackle other more detailed, but equally important questions:

  • Who is your core customer?
  • What is the promise that your brand makes to your core customer?
  • What are the underlying trends that will impact your business?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of your business?

My clients are then in a position to identify the key capabilities they need to guarantee their long-term success. The protection and development of these key capabilities forms the basis of strategic planning, and the resultant structural and execution steps that follow. The outcome is a clear sense of exactly what activities they should start, stop, and continue doing. It is an outcome that brings alignment and reduces clutter.

Together, we have eradicated the tyranny of complexity.

Complexity distracts what could be highly effective teams. Our teams become so distracted that they cannot serve the core purpose of our business. We all get so buried in the complexity of the ‘what’ that we lose sight of the ‘why’. As a result, we diminish the service that we are providing to our key clients and disrupt the working environment provided for our teams (the ‘who’).

Published October 23, 2017