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?