Problems can be complicated – solutions cannot

Introduce simple solutions to complex problems

2 August 2015

We are only capable of processing a small fraction of the information we are constantly bombarded with.

In his book The User Illusion (Mærk Verden), the journalist and author Tor Nørretranders concludes that the band width of our consciousness is approx. 16 bits per second. Whether you agree with him in this exact definition is unimportant. The key point is that we are only capable of processing a small fraction of the information we are constantly bombarded with.

When you introduce simple solutions to complex problems, your understanding of the underlying factors causing the problems will be questioned – do it anyway!

And the information flow is ever increasing. We live in a complex society in which we orientate ourselves in many different directions and must relate to hundreds of different possibilities. Each of these possibilities is rarely unambiguous, but has nuances and can be interpreted in different ways. Furthermore, it is not merely the surrounding world’s complexity and uncertainty we observe, but also our own. Often, a natural result is that we formulate extremely complex plans comprising all imaginable details and reservations. However, these are not viable because in the wilderness of items on the agenda and activities, we lose purpose, overview and energy.

Simplification without prerequisites is nothing more than an expression of the same cocksure stupidity which far too often rears its ugly head, e.g. when 75% of the population after two drawn games in a row believe that they can do a better job in the role of national soccer coach than the one actually appointed.

It is a capital sin to underestimate the scope of the assignment when working with change. It takes 60-80 repetitions before a behavioural change turns into a habit. For this reason alone, to start running twice a week is sufficiently complex to a person with an average willpower. Remember this the next time we ask an organisation to do something different than usual – especially because complexity increases exponentially with the number of people involved.

Too much complexity is paralysing

It is complexity times two, and that is a challenge. Too much complexity is simply paralysing. Take for instance the implementation of a new strategy or the execution of a large reorganisation. Here, the success rate is directly inversely proportional to the complexity of the solution. Therefore, we encourage you to reduce complexity for the simple reason that it strongly inhibits any form of initiative and drive! That being said, do not bring out the axe before you have recognised and understood the complexity.

It is a capital sin to underestimate the scope of the assignment when working with change.

Bearing this in mind, there are several obvious areas to work with when it comes to reducing complexity. We can break down large changes into sequences of smaller ones. Thus, uncertainty is reduced, the organisation’s change capacity is increased, and we reduce inner complexity which makes us more proficient in handling outer complexity. 

Simplicity can be forced into the change by focusing on a few, but decisive must-win battles. Simultaneously, we can try to steer the organisation’s expectations of what is to take place before, during and after the change by constantly being clear-cut in relation to the change’s impact targets and the measurements supporting them. 

It is difficult, but not impossible. “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth”, John F. Kennedy said in 1961. Everybody understood this, and everybody also understood that there was so much more to it – not least when Neil Armstrong eight years later made the dream come true.

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