Archive for November, 2010

Treating the Complexity Complex

Monday, November 29th, 2010

This is the second guest blog in a series from Holly Green in our occasional series featuring guest bloggers with interesting things to say:-  

In my last blog, I suggested that many business leaders are struggling to deal with the increasing complexity of today’s business world. Here are some strategies you can employ to cope with this emerging “complexity complex.”

Let’s start by defining what we mean by saying the world is getting more complex.

We all know the world is moving faster all the time. And we all know that businesses now face more competition than ever. But there’s more to complexity than just speed of change and increased competition.

The markets we serve are not just changing faster, they’re changing more radically and becoming less predictable. They’re also becoming increasingly interconnected and interrelated in ways we never had to deal with before. As a result, the leadership skills, thinking patterns and decision-making processes we grew up with have less and less application to today’s world.

The solution isn’t working harder or smarter because we’re already doing both. And it doesn’t involve getting better at managing change because most of us are already doing that as well. Rather, dealing with complexity involves making our organizations and ourselves more fluid, flexible, and quick to respond. This requires moving away from static strategic planning and focusing on developing operating agility.

To become more fluid and flexible:

Get clear on winning. Start by painting a very clear picture of what winning looks like for your organization. Your strategies for getting there may change in response to internal and external events. But when complexity comes at you like a bullet train out of control, your vision of what winning looks like will serve as the north star that keeps everyone focused and moving in the right direction.

Challenge your assumptions. How many times have you heard me say this before? Often, our biggest enemies are the unspoken attitudes, beliefs and assumptions about our customers, markets and businesses that we cling to, even in the face of contradictory evidence. Regularly challenge your own “thought bubbles,” and learn how to recognize them in others. Deliberately seek out different perspectives, especially when they contradict what you know to be true. Ask a lot of “what if?” questions.

Embrace ambiguity. For years we’ve struggled to learn how to manage change. Ironically, just when we’re getting good at it we need to stop managing change and start creating it! Embracing ambiguity means getting comfortable with not having all the answers. It means accepting that there may be more than one right answer. It means having the courage to make tough decisions even when we don’t have all the data. Uncertainty is the new status quo, so get used to it.

Make disruptive choices. Learn to create new ways of working and meeting customer needs. Practice thinking differently by conducting “pre-mortems,” whereby you evaluate your decision-making process before implementing major decisions. Teach your team to get really good at idea generation, evaluation and execution. Seek new ways of delivering value that fundamentally change the customer’s relationship to your products and services. In a complex world, incremental change will not position you as a market leader.

Reinvent customer relationships. Managing complexity requires collaborating with customers in new and different ways. Invite customers to participate in your new product and service development efforts. I’m not talking about focus groups or annual surveys. Been there, done that! I’m talking about making your customers an integral part of the new product development process, from the early stages of idea generation all the way to market entry. Use social media and other new technologies to create communities around your products and services. Most important, implement processes for staying up to date with your customers’ constantly changing needs.

Build operating dexterity. Structure your organization so that it can realign quickly in response to unexpected events. Learn how to say “no” to opportunities that take you off focus, unless you have redefined winning and agreed to the new destination. Create laser-like focus and prioritization at every level, keeping your picture of winning visible at all times by communicating it and keeping it physically in front of people on a regular basis. The ultimate goal is developing the ability to move fast with focus and flexibility. (I often refer to this as strategic agility.)

Did I mention that you have to do all this while informing, inspiring and engaging your whole team/organization? Well, nobody said business leadership would be easy! In fact, I find it more challenging than ever. But when we get it right, I also find it more fulfilling than ever.

Stay tuned for more tips on dealing with complexity.

Author: Holly G. Green


Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

It is impossible at this time of year not to notice the change of season, the leaves on the ground, the nip in the air.  I certainly am all too aware of my body responding to this as it tries to tell me it is time to hibernate.  As human animals we are still very affected by these cyclic changes in our environment, despite our ingenuity and its ability to insulate us from the cold and the dark.  However all this makes me reflect on the importance in taking account of timing where we are in the various business and economic cycles when trying to introduce change.  If you do not take account of both the external environment and that which pertains to your own business then you are far less likely to succeed.  The key is always to start from where you actually are and build your bridge out to where you wish to get to.  This involves taking sometime to actually take stock of your current position / state in terms of resources, morale, skills, capability etc. so you know what help you require in order to succeed.  All too often this vital step is skipped as “we don’t have time” and the knowledge is assumed…

“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.”  William Blake

Do You Have a Complexity Complex?

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

This another of our occasional series featuring guest bloggers with interesting things to say:-

Are you overwhelmed by how fast the world moves these days? Does it seem like everything is getting more complicated? Do you sometimes feel like you might be out of your league when it comes to leading an organization in today’s chaotic markets?

Welcome to business leadership in the 21st century.

Technology was supposed to make our lives simpler. While it’s safe to say that technology has simplified many tasks, activities, and processes, I don’t think anyone would argue that it has made our lives more complicated. Add instant communications (with anyone, anywhere in the world, at any time), information overload, and a massive increase in global competition into the mix, and no wonder that many of today’s business leaders are wondering how to keep up and get ahead.

I first wrote about the problem of complexity as a serious leadership problem earlier this year ( Since then I’ve been paying a lot more attention to what I’ve come to call the “complexity complex.”

I call it a complex because while most leaders acknowledge the challenge of managing complexity more effectively, they also say that they feel ill equipped to do so. Many feel like the knowledge and skills that enabled them to attain positions of leadership within their organizations are no longer sufficient for today’s market realities. So they understand that the problem exists, but they’re not sure what to do about it.

How can you tell if you’re suffering from a complexity complex? Look for the following symptoms:

Feeling overwhelmed with too much data. This first symptom should come as no surprise. These days, we all feel overwhelmed by the massive amounts of data hitting us on a daily basis. The trick is not to try to process it all, but to get very good at two things: sorting out which information is most relevant to your business, and developing systems and processes for turning meaningless data into useful information.

Unable to pull the trigger on key decisions. Hesitancy in decision-making often goes hand-in-hand with information overload. As business leaders, we’ve been trained to gather all the information (or as much as possible) before making key strategic decisions. But it’s no longer possible to get all the information. In a world where speed is of the essence, delaying important decisions (or not making them at all) can wreak just as much havoc as making the wrong ones. The strategy here is to gather information from a variety of sources, including those from outside your industry, so that you end up with multiple perspectives and viewpoints rather than a narrow frame of reference.

Same ways of thinking and doing things. This symptom results from some very basic human traits: fear of the unknown coupled with the assumption that if it has always worked for me, I am sure it will still work. As human beings, we don’t like to stray very far from our comfort zones. So we stay in situations that aren’t working out simply because they feel comfortable. For example, we stay in bad marriages or continually make unhealthy lifestyle choices because it’s easier to deal with the known than the discomfort of the unknown.

In business, this shows up in several ways. We cling to what we “know” to be true about our customers and markets, even when they are clearly changing in front of our eyes. We continue to believe and behave as if what made us successful in the past will continue to make us successful in the future, even when the evidence suggests otherwise. And we keep on doing the same things over and over (maybe just a little louder), even when we’re not getting the results we want and expect.

Constantly surprised by changes in your industry. Even the most diligent leaders get caught off guard every now and then by unexpected events in their markets or industries. But if you find yourself getting surprised by internal and external events on a regular basis, the best you can hope for is play catch-up with the market leaders. Not a good recipe for success!

Lack of focus. This is by far the most common, and dangerous, symptom. With increased complexity comes more choices, and I see many companies struggling to decide where they want to go and which opportunities they want to pursue. Lack of focus manifests itself in many ways. Constantly changing directions in midstream. Lack of clarity around customer wants and needs. Difficulty in developing successful new products and services. Poor execution of just about anything and everything you do. Until you get very clear on what winning looks like for your organization so everyone can focus and prioritize, complexity will always win out.

Defining a problem is one thing. Solving it is another. There are numerous tips, techniques, and tools you can use to deal with your complexity complex. Stay tuned for those.

Author: Holly G. Green