How to Minimize Complexity

I think we all agree on the increasing complexity that’s in our lives. And, ironically, most of the things that are adding complexity are initially promising to simplify (for a quick example, just open your TV and check out the latest ad for the new mop that will forever take your mind off dusting. But comes with 10 spare parts, which you have to learn how to operate. And in case it doesn’t work properly, God save you from the endless queues and phonecalls for warranty).Get it?

So, why are we doing this to ourselves?   fractals

Indeed, why?

Because we imagine it’s all for the greater good.

I am looking at the time I’m investing now in social media. I started a blog, initially to track my learning process from coaching, and to share tips with the world. Now, I’ve discovered there’s probably thousands of people doing the same thing, and started to read them. But also promoting my own writing through social media. I spend way more time than I used to, on Twitter, Facebook and Google Reader.  So I’ve added around 1 h (at least!) per day, which is completely not related to pure coaching.

Complexity is when you find yourself in a big ball of fuzziness and you ask yourself “How did I get here?”
(don’t worry, you’re not alone. There’s even a science for that, and they call it, not surprisingly, “Complexity Theory”. Apparently management is THE most prone science to create complexity.)

Ok, now we know we’re in the gutter, what do we do next?

Suppose you find an area in your life that’s rippling down with adding complexity.

How do you minimize Complexity?

1. Check if the idea/project is creating more and more branches as it unfolds – somewhat like a fractal system. If you pursue each branch on its own, they might turn into other ideas/projects themselves. And so on, ad nauseam.

2. Decide whether you want to pursue each branch on its own, or focus on the first idea/project.

If you want to go down the path of other rippling projects, do a map of each. Try to foresee what each branch will bring to you – how much added complexity = hours invested, difficulty, and so on. For example, when I started to build up my website, I had no idea it would be so difficult and I’d have to learn a bit of HTML and programming. After realizing all this would prove too much time investment for a young – and simple! – website, I decided to leave simple. And you like it like this, don’t you?

If you want to start a new business, or simply learn a new skill, or make a change in your life, try to foresee what spending that will bring. Let’s take a common habit change (I’ve gone through this last year). Let’s say you want to take up running. So you decide you’re going to go out running 2 times per week, in a park near you. You already have the minor equipment you need – some running shoes, a T Shirt and shorts. That’s good enough.

But after a few weeks you realize the running shoes are causing you blisters. You need to buy new ones. That’s another couple more hours invested in looking for new shoes + the new cash expense. And as you go out running more and more often, you will need more T Shirts and pants too. And then it will get colder and colder. You can’t go on running outside (ok, if you have better lungs than I, maybe you can). So you take up a subscription at the gym. And you need to pay for that, plus take the time invested to go to the gym and return home.

So don’t minimize the rippling out importance of a changing habit. Make sure you’re up for it.

Now, if something easy as taking up running involves complications, what about a new business? Or building a new product?

Let’s go back to the second question. How about – just focusing on the main idea.

What was the purpose in the first place?

Remember the business and fisherman story?

A management consultant, on holiday in a African fishing village, watched a little fishing boat dock at the quayside. Noting the quality of the fish, the consultant asked the fisherman how long it had taken to catch them.

“Not very long.” answered the fisherman.

“Then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the consultant.

The fisherman explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The consultant asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, have an afternoon’s rest under a coconut tree. In the evenings, I go into the community hall to see my friends, have a few beers, play the drums, and sing a few songs….. I have a full and happy life.” replied the fisherman.

The consultant ventured, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you…… You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have a large fleet. Instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you can negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to a city here or maybe even in the United Kingdom, from where you can direct your huge enterprise.”

“How long would that take?” asked the fisherman.

“Oh, ten, maybe twenty years.” replied the consultant.

“And after that?” asked the fisherman.

“After that? That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the consultant, laughing, “When your business gets really big, you can start selling shares in your company and make millions!”

“Millions? Really? And after that?” pressed the fisherman.

“After that you’ll be able to retire, move out to a small village by the sea, sleep in late every day, spend time with your family, go fishing, take afternoon naps under a coconut tree, and spend relaxing evenings havings drinks with friends…”

(Ack Jean Kent)

Maybe your life shouldn’t be as complicated as you make it now.
What is your end purpose anyway?

Cause if it’s – like most of us – getting a house somewhere quiet, going to the pub every once in a while and organizing get togethers with friends, having just enough cash to live happily day by day…well you should be planning on that house.

Sometimes we forget where we’re really headed. And then we wonder why complexity hits in.

Look at your work, now. Take the most complex project. What’s its purpose, really? Is it to get more clients? What bells and whistles could you cut from it? How could you then really go and listen to your clients?

In a simpler way?

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1 Comment
  • Tax preparer
    January 20, 2010

    It is amazing post… i like such post… Thank you for sharing this post.

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