In Praise of Organizational Simplicity: A Tip for Overcoming the Failure of Complexity

April 9, 2009 at 11:20 am Leave a comment

It’s easier to start simple and build complexity than to begin with complexity and try to simplify.

In a moment of clarity after a long meeting this morning, the thought above emerged in my mind like the glow of the first warm Spring day after a long Chicagoland Winter.

Many senior executives within associations pride themselves in falling somewhere on the management spectrum between business engineer and mad scientist working within their often transmorgified office laboratory… all in search of that elusively defining breakthrough, process, product, service, procedure, partnership, business model, strategy, quality measure, restructure or operational maneuver that will certainly transform their immediate organizational world as they know, lifting their organization to the envious accolades of counterparts round the world.

While the core concept nestled within it’s own complexity might truly be a great idea, the awful truth is that complexity often turns out to be less than a success formula.  Here are the reasons:  

Fundamentral Principles of Change:  While the complexity may seem as clear as that spring day to the executive mad scientist, chances are it is probably going to be pretty foreign to those who will be charged with converting the complexity into success.  When complexity is used as a starting point, it overhelms others drawing them away from their comfort zone into a sense of fear and insecurity.   Reducing complexity to simplicity after the fact can be a damaging and trust-eroding process.  Save your leadreship capital for larger battles.    

Investment/Participation:  Change always presents an opportunity to either strengthen or alienate an organizational team.  When an executive approaches the table with answers, rather than questions, there is suddenly little for other key stakeholders to contribute.  Remember, while we must work for a living, we choose a profession because we want to make a difference through our unique talents and abilities on some level. 

To come to the table with a complex solution is like kicking a chef out of a kitchen and telling him that he is only needed to set the tables in the dining room.  It leaves little for others to contribute or invest themselves in more deeply.   

Perspective:  Even the most visionary executive on her very best day is still a mere inconclusive piece of a larger puzzle, despite how revealing the piece might be.  A powerful idea can be an accelerated starting point but by no means a decisive end point.  We must bring our pieces of the puzzle to the table as starting point for others to place their pieces of the puzzle onto the table to construct a clearer picture.  Out of simplicty emerges clarity.

House of Cards:  As leaders, we must never become complacent or blinded by the simple fact that our reputations and credibility are like a house of cards that require countless hours of patience, focus and concentration to build up, but only a matter of seconds to come tumbling down.  Build up that leadership capital and hope you’ll never have to draw from those reserves.       

The Remedy:  Think with the complexity of a general, but act with the simplicity.



Entry filed under: Human Imperfection, Innovation, Managing Change, Organizational Management, participation, people.

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