Friday, March 30, 2020
Taking the time for complexity
Over-simplification and management by slogans threatens to drag us all into mediocrity
Hamburger Management is big on simplicity—and speed. It tries to find quick and simple answers to everything, since there’s no time available to develop a proper understanding of often complex situations. True experts in a topic can often make something extremely complex seem understandable by anyone, but that comes only as a result of decades of deep thought and experience. What Hamburger Management offers is simply the Disneyfication of leadership.
We live in a complex world. We’re complex creatures, full of complex thoughts and emotions. Nothing about us is straightforward, from the trillions of trillions of connections our brains can make to the way we’ve taken something as necessary as the continuance of our species and turned it into a maze of hopes, desires, fears and opportunities for righteous condemnation. Many of today’s organizations are massive—financially, geographically, and in terms of products handled and people employed. It’s probably fair to say that much of modern life, but especially business life, has never been more complex, interconnected, and far-reaching in its effects.
And still, despite all of this, managers and business leaders remain hooked on the notion that there’s a simple, quick answer to everything.
The myth that life is simple undermines comprehension, decision-making, learning, and even happiness.We’re urged to “keep it simple, stupid.” Complex projects, requiring decisions that may result in investments of millions of dollars, must be reduced to an “elevator speech” of thirty seconds or less. Opinions on matters so difficult and involved they almost defy comprehension are delivered in fifteen-second sound-bites. The Powerpoint presentation—that modern obsession designed to reduce every communication to a list of bullet points—has replaced any kind of reasoned argument, or careful explanation of options, evidence, and risks. Executives rush from meeting to meeting, rarely allowing themselves the time either to consider what they are about to decide, or reflect on what they have just accepted or turned down.
In an atmosphere like this, it become impossible to learn anything. The very best that can be done is to apply simplistic rules of thumb and take mostly emotionally-based decisions. Thoughts and the weighing of evidence take time. Emotional responses are virtually instant; plus they come with an impressive feeling of certainty, even if that feeling is based on almost nothing tangible. Is it any wonder that, in an age of news broadcasts reduced to slogans and sound bites sandwiched between far more extensive advertising, discussion programs aimed at producing confrontation rather than insight, and the written word reduced to books hyping “The Secret” and other panaceas for every known situation, few people even grasp the pressing need to slow down and allow yourself time to sort out fact from fiction and carefully-constructed spin?
The myth that life is simple undermines comprehension, decision-making, learning, and even happiness. Wishing doesn’t make the wish come true. Panaceas rise and fall with monotonous regularity, each one making a fortune for its proponents, then sinking almost without trace—only to be reborn a few years later in a fresh format. There is no credible evidence that the universe responds automatically to our thoughts and wishes, let alone the business world. Intention may help focus your thinking, but it provides no guarantee of success. Simple answers are simple for a very good reason: most of them have sacrificed understanding and reality in favor of sounding good.
Facts will stand up to any scrutiny. Hype and spin cannot stand up to a single, well-chosen question.It’s a sad failing of the human race that we nearly all want something for nothing—to be able to enjoy the fruits of success without the effort (and the time) that it always takes. Since civilization began, there have been glib snake-oil salesmen peddling easy, no-fail answers to life’s problems; just as there have been gurus of every kind assuring their followers that all it takes to win happiness and salvation is obedience to their every word and a few simple “spiritual”or mental exercises—known, of course, only to them.
Embrace life’s complexity. Don’t fall prey to the naive illusion that there is a simple, easy answer to every problem. Go beneath the spin, the presentation, the marketing, to the meaning below. Demand to see the evidence. Then demand the time to test and check that evidence fully. Facts and sound logic will stand up to any scrutiny. Hype and spin cannot stand up to a single, well-chosen question. Don't be hurried. Speed is usually a principal factor in disasters of every kind. The person in a rush is the one who misses all the warning signs, cuts all the corners, and jumps to conclusions without any real evidence to back them up.
Hamburger Management urges us to operate in a multiple-choice manner in a business world full of long, complex essay questions. To be genuinely simple takes long periods of time and enormous effort devoted to understanding issues in their full complexity—plus outstanding intelligence. To be simplistic takes neither effort nor thought nor time to consider and reflect. Slow Leadership isn’t slow for no reason. It’s slow because it takes time to get complex things right. Anyone can make a mistake in a heartbeat.
There’s power and interest and potential in complexity. Why throw it away to accept today’s shoddy, simplistic alternatives? Why take the risk of getting things badly wrong, just to save time in the short-term? Won’t those hurried mistakes mean that you’ll have to spend even more time later to try to put them right?
Sometimes complex problems have simple solutions. Often, complex answers and solutions are doomed to fail because of their complexity.
If the solution still looks complex, maybe you need to dig deeper still - and find the "simplicity on the other side of complexity".
So, maybe instead of fast and simple we need to look for slow and simple?
You are, of course, right. The difference lies in your words "to dig deeper still." The simplicity that comes from careful thought, thorough research, and a profound understanding of all the elements involved has almost nothing in common with the superficial simplicity that is demanded by Hamburger Management.
Keep reading, my friend.
Excellent piece! I believe the people who are real thinkers are increasingly frustrated by corporate managers who want a simple system for everything.
Additionally, many of the corporate managers have learned how to use the simple buzzwords without any understanding of the processes necessary to accomplish many of the corporate objectives.
Keep up the good work! : - )
Another very thoughtful piece on complexity. We dwell in complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity and we want the algorithm that will answer all our problems all the time with perfect certainty.
I guess in Hamburger Management we would call this a Mis-Steak!
Anyway, I'll take two of whatever and call you in the morning because it gives one a headache to think.
Still, sometimes the most nutritious part of a hamburger is the bun.
Keep reading, my friend.
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