Crush the Complexity of Cowardice
Unchallenged complexity is the source of frustration, decline, stagnation, and death. Don’t wait for crisis to eliminate complexity.
Edward de Bono said, “There is never any justification for things being complex when they could be simple.”
Sources of complexity:
Controls create complexity. In order to stay in control, leaders develop systems that block action.
Fear motivates controls. Organizations need protection from unethical behaviors, illegalities, unsafe behaviors, and misappropriation of resources. But, in many organizations, controls are about butt covering, not real threats.
Butt covering game players enjoy bureaucratic systems that establish blame. Everyone else feels frustrated and hamstrung.
Controls are necessary, but simplicity frees.
Adding, without taking away, is a source of complexity that drains, slows, and eventually destroys. Any fool can start something new. It takes courage to end something old.
How many times have you heard,
“Just get out of my way and let me do my job.”
Reaction to failure produces complexity. Screw ups motivate bureaucrats to create policies and procedures that prevent failure. What they actually prevent is learning and vibrancy.
Lethargic, cowardly leaders create complexity. Simplicity is the result of aggressive intervention. Lousy leaders accept complexity; courageous leaders eliminate it.
Simplicity is the result of elimination.
- Choose reporting over permission. Say, “Don’t ask for permission. Tell me what you’re doing.” Default toward action, not permission.
- Don’t add something new without asking what needs to go?
- Explore ways to eliminate permission-giving. Ask, “What makes you believe you need permission?”
- Develop partnerships rather than hierarchies.
- Have “what can we eliminate” meetings. Don’t leave the room without finding something to cut.
- Relentlessly connect with purpose and values. Confront habitual behaviors, programs, and initiatives. Ask, “Why are we doing this?” The further you are from purpose, the more valuable bureaucracy becomes.
- Expect responsibility, performance, and persistent feedback.
What causes organizational complexity?
How can leaders create simplicity?
“What causes organizational complexity?”
You’ve done a great job succinctly describing the evolution of fear based control, and it happens literally reflexively, as a “CYA for the future,” or a “See, I did something about the problem!” in many organizations.
How can leaders create simplicity?
There is question, the answer to which is a very powerful direct line through complexity and chaos, that is, “What do I/we really want to do/accomplish here?”
Though the answer itself my evolve as it is thought through, repeatedly coming back to that question/answer will serve as a beacon in the fog of complexity (you will find that if you keep hitting the question, eventually *an* answer will shine brightly through all the clutter—or you’re not honest with yourself).
Of course, part of the solution required to get to what I/we want may involve considerable courage—the courage to make choices that reduce complexity where it is not serving… but that is another topic. 🙂
I know it probably sounds too basic, but we often forget the basics when we are caught up in a seductive web of complexity.
The expression “basics” is powerful when considering simplicity. One leads to the other. I’m glad you introduced the term.
I feel the tension between goal and method in your comment. It seems that methods easily divert our attention and eventually goals are forgotten in the fog of complexity.
Always a pleasure.
I think organizational complexity is caused by philosophy, management and policy. When philosophy of organization is not clear and value oriented then it has potential to create complexity sooner or later. Similarly, when management are not focused towards organizations or do not possess good character, then complexity tend to happen. When policy is not clear and does not fit in the current context and needs, then it may create complexity.
But, I strongly feel that despite everything in place, cowardice people in decision making position make most of things complex.
I agree that fear motivates complexity. But there are people who are behaviorally cowardice that is driven by their experience or nature.
The other thing is the practice that get encouraged either instils or hinders complexity. Many top management create complexity just to show their importance and to create fear among people. They do because of trend and such practices attracts attention.
Leaders can create simplicity when they feel that everyone is important in the organization. They can create simplicity when they are concerned about people and organization and less about protecting their position. Following organizational ethics could be powerful tool to create complexity into simplicity.
I see you hammering away at people in positions of power. It takes real courage to press into the future rather than protecting position. It’s sad that we work hard to achieve “success” and then when we think we have achieved it we turn to protection mode.
When we don’t have much to loose it’s easy to take risks. But when we feel we have lots to loose everything slows down. I don’t think that’s all bad.
I’m delighted you introduce character into the conversation. Leadership is defined by our character.
Best wishes in your studies.
Thanks Dan – completely concur, and I like Marks phrase “seductive web of complexity”.I like also that making things simple requires aggression…and I believe this is because most are conditioned to look busy rather than be productive. Productive can often disguise itself as inactive; complexity almost always looks busy and working hard for the company – a perfect illusion. I’m regularly reminding my team i don’t want them here late – long hours usually corresponds with lower productivity, less critical thinking and evidences to me we’re not finding a better way. As leaders we need to do just that – lead the way – demonstrate change, organisation, striving for constant improvement, looking for better ways, breaking what already works but is patently inefficient or ineffective – to quote Mark Twain:
“If I had more time I would have written a shorter letter”
I always enjoy reading your insights and I love well turned phrases like, “We are conditioned to look busy rather than be productive.” OUCH!
Simplicity and productivity go hand in hand. Powerful.
Enjoy the journey… 🙂
“Any fool can start something new. It takes courage to end something old.”
Reminds me of the book “Necessary Endings”. We are so afraid of letting go of things.
What creates complexity?
Other than fear based management, I often experience the “Just In Case” mentality. “Let’s add this or that just in case the VP asks about it next time.” “It would be nice to add this, so I can answer this one-off question I got from my sales director”.
We like to think it is necessary to cover all our basis from start up when sometimes those some things we add “just in case” become our problems, and create more questions and more work that distract us from the main goal.
As Franklin Covey’s seminar, Focus, states: “The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing”.
I liked this post, I can relate to it daily, and it gave me some stuff to think about for my next blog post.
Wonderful insights on a source of complexity; covering all the bases. I didn’t even think of that one this morning. Glad you added it.
I really enjoyed Cloud’s book, “Necessary Endings” very useful and practical.
Best wishes with your blog.
What causes organizational complexity? Complex organizations of course, duh!!!!
How to accomplish that? Don’t connect why’s, dont clearly define and agree upon goals, and regularly take a look at where we are at in the progress of clearly defined agreed upon goals and keep why’s connected.
I feel I can’t speak for others and decide what they could or ought to do, but speaking for me I can create simple be BEING simple. What am I trying to do here manage pereceptions? Good googly moogly, how re-dic-o-lous-is dat postulate??? Lol
Not really found any other way. Fit my way into thinking in the size of my pants, not thinking I am any bigger than I really am. AA Big Book says most good ideas are simple. I resemble that comment.
SP back to my simple present!
Truly Human Leadership ROCKS!!!
Actually I think complex organizations are more a symptom than a cause. But, I think we agree that a clear view of purpose helps cut the fog of complexity…assuming we have enough courage to do something about it.
Yep, I mis typed! I agree with your causation! My bad!
Continue to take personal inventory and when wrong promptly admit it!!! Step 10!!!!
Serenity Prayer courage to change the things I can, wisdom to know the difference.
So I been fired a lot!!! Imagine that!! But at end of the day lack of courage and not standing for what I believe in and speaking up about those beliefs are not the last thoughts I have before I drift off into peaceful sleep. Mostly, man what a great day I had! Life is spectacular!!!! I am sleepy!!!
Id rather sleep peacefully than work for and with folks who don’t believe what I believe.
So is that courageous or while unemployed or a most excellent justification??? Lol
Take care Dan,
SP back to Now!!
Thank you, Dan – I am going to take your 1.) and 3.) up today, making sure that my direct reports know that I would rather hear their plans then tell them what they may and may not do. I’m happy that we have that culture already but we can be even better.
In a wider sense, there is another culture that bends over backwards to make sure that an extremely unlikely event “Can Never Happen Again !!” (said with lots of drama and anguish, hopefully at a news event) by implementing many many controls. While other issues go completely ignored. (weird example: parents fail to protect their children from, say rampant type II diabetes vs. freak out over “eek-a-stranger”). People are irrational and like/need/sometimes had better to cover their butt. And I realize, it really does take courage to be rational and adult in our blame-filled culture.
Today, I will ask ‘why’ every time I do a work related habit. And see what good thing happens.
Ooooo! Good add! “We can never let failure happen again.”
Congrats on having a “we can be even better” orientation. That’s the thing that drives organizations into excellence. Love it.
Best to you
Organizational complexity is generally caused by fear. Additional polices and procedures are often there as unnecessary safety blankets trying to protect from disaster but in actuality causing much confusion and red-tape. Staff at work should feel free to try and fail and try again without being terrified of breaking archaic policy. Policies should be reviewed and streamlined regularly because of this.
I appreciate the addition of regular policy reviews…an indispensable component of simple organizations.
Thanks also for the term red tape…how did that one slip by me? 🙂
Complexity in a,lot of cases is caused most often by 2 reasons in my opinion:
1. Continuing to apply manual processes in an automated/electronic/automated environment. With reporting tools up the wahzoo there is an ability to track/monitor/ evaluate/provide information that we didn’t have in the dark ages. The SOP’S have to catch up.
2. Somewhere along the line there was a MAJOR screw up and so the internal noose (controls) were tightened to prevent future screw ups. At some point you have to trust (but verify) again.
So true…rather than updating it’s feels simpler to keep doing things the same. It’s true that change often creates complexity. But complexity comes before simplicity. A short term time of change/complexity often yields benefits.
You give us a guideline for the use of technology. Does it make life simpler. NOw that’s a challenge!
Best to you
How can leaders create simplicity?
Empower and hold people accountable. Some of this stuff has been going on forever and then all of a sudden we decide to “enforce” it or “reprimand” people for it. Have to stop the insanity.
Hey Enna, in AA we have slogans. One is First Things First.
Could it be locating the source of the insanity is a sane place to start correcting the problem? How else would one hope to be successful?
If you got a garden hose and the connector at the spicket is broken what does changing the spray thingy at the other end do? Nothing, right?
Got to start at the source. Or can choose to.
Complex situations would seem to evolve from simple people creating, thinking complex thoughts.
If ya wanna prove this yourself that everything starts any place other than your thoughts, go brush your teeth.
Well starting that process starts with THINKING you are gonna do that. Cannot be done any other way, right? If you think so share the thoughts you have about that.
Emmett Fox says The Golden Key is Think about God instead!!!!! Course in Miracles says, I could choose Peace instead of this. Think they are onto something!!!!! You?
I find folks abhor, reject, hate, blame anything but taking responsibility that where they are is the results of their thinking.
If you don’t like where you are, change what you are thinking about where you think you are!!!!!
Response-ability isn’t a bad thing wonder why folks do all they can to see where their ability level really is?
No victims, just volunteers. What you think the Dude meant when he said you are what you think? Think he meant exactly, precisely what he said. You?
So complex problems start with simple people thinking complex thoughts. Simplest solution then would seem to be simple people changing up their thoughts to simple ones.
Then everything else falls into place, right?
Great simple book, Chop Wood, Carry Water. Think you may like it if you want to read it. Google away!!!!
First Things First, simplify ones own thoughts, change ones experience!!! Only way it’s done.
SP back to my present!!!!
Thanks again Enna,
Courageous people are the cure to complexity. Empowerment in this case includes authority to eliminate.
You remind me of something Denny Strigl did at Verizon Wireless. He gradually stopped submitting reports that seemed unnecessary. By doing this, he was able to redirect the energies of several people to more productive activities. It took courage but it worked.
Your posts are always so thought provoking! Enjoy reading them all! Thank you.
Dan, I am fascinated that you have connected complexity with cowardice. I have noted that but in a different manifestation. Look for the guy with the wall of binders in his cube, the one everyone tiptoes around saying “That’s Joe. He deals with all the details that are too complex for the rest of us to understand.” Guaranteed, Joe has created that wall of complexity behind which to hide and appear indispensable. I loved the Edward de Bono quote. Thanks.
I know people who find security in details. On one hand they are important to organizations but when they can’t lift their heads out of the weeds or they use details as protective barriers they become obstacles.
Thanks for your insights.
Man, this is my heart-cry!
WOW this is a biggie, I am glad I am not a leader. I never realized until you wrote this on how complex all that could be.
While I was working for a place you are right there are so many rules and wow which would you keep in place which should you trash. Hmmm. Thanks again for your insights and all your commenters insights and wow.
I guess I would have to be on my knees continually ;o)
I agree with you. The comments here are always a source of insight, reminder, and challenge.
I wonder if you are a leader without a position or title?
Leaders can create simpliciy by allowing their folks time to think. I use to come to work and start the laundry list of tasks for the day. It felt so good to check them off one by one…..so productive. I slowly started to learn that if I put some thought into my day and what was important I could focus on solutions and direct actions versus busy work. Give your folks…mandate they take at minimum an hour a day and just think. This time will be well spent.
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Wonderful advice to follow. Reducing ones “drag” by eliminating things that are not working instead of just adding adding adding is something I don’t see too often.