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Some recent gems about managing complexity.

While working on ‘the one clear thing’ series of posts and also while managing much complexity at work this year, I have been reading and reflecting about complexity: how we make things complex, how we can make them simpler and what enables this. Here are three great recent posts on this topic:

1. Pruning for Better Growth – Dr Monique Beedles

Part of the search for simplicity and clarity may relate to cutting back: weeding out , uncluttering the physical and psychological space and deciding where effort is best directed. Dr Monique Beedles says:

It seems counterintuitive, to cut something back in order to help it grow – but any gardener knows that a good prune is essential to healthy growth.

Are you, your blog or your business trying to be all things to all people? Maybe it’s time to review what’s really important and where to focus strategy and effort. See Monique’s article, a beautiful clear statement in itself, for some powerful questions to help review the focus of your business.

2. It’s complicated! Or is managing complexity simpler than you think? –  Australian School of Business

This excellent article discusses mindsets for managing complexity. It recognises that the old hierarchical, command and control models of leadership may not serve us in increasingly complex and competitive environments. The shift is to new leadership models that focus on creative problem-solving and the enabling of others to be solution focused.

Steve Vamos, president of the Society for Knowledge Economics (SKE) and the former chief executive of Microsoft Australia says:

The focus of modern leadership should be around breaking down complexity – or “making the complex simpler”…

Some of the key strategies discussed are around the concepts of:

  • the need for clarity of purpose
  • people understanding their place in the business
  • being solution-focused
  • the re-emergence of generalist leaders with strong problem-solving skills
  • the value of conversation and story-telling
  • the 80/20 rule and how to use it drive focus of effort
  • managing ‘wicked’, seemingly impenetrable problems with a new mind-set
  • bravery in tackling ‘wicked’ problems
  • strong leadership as the enabling of others to find solutions
  • persistence

Suggested approaches for superior leadership and the programs that develop it include: social entrepreneurship, design theory and innovation strategy. These skill-sets are seen as critical to encouraging different ways of thinking and promoting new solutions.

3. The eight word mission statement – Eric Hellweg, Harvard Business Review

Finally, a great approach from  Kevin Starr, the executive director of the Mulago Foundation which channels investments to socially minded businesses. His focus is around how clearly businesses can summarise their main reason for being through their mission statement.

So many mission statements are wordy, long, unclear and fall flat in the communication of their central message to those that matter in achieving it. Starr insists that companies he supports state their mission statement in under eight words using the format, “Verb, target, outcome.” Some examples provided are: “Save endangered species from extinction” and “Improve African children’s health.”

This is an excellent approach for enhancing personal and business focus. How clear are your personal and business goals? Can you express them in an eight word mission statement? How then can you measure success against the statement?


How are you making the complex easier to manage and solve in your personal and business contexts?

Image, Simple yet Beautiful by pranav from flickr and used under a Creative Commons license with thanks