Give Up Complexity At Work And It Won't Follow You Home
Complexity in business has become the norm: complex terms, complex phrases, complex systems, complex change programmes, complex just about everything.
Complexity isn't inherently bad, nor is it always avoidable: the global economy and the network that gives it life, for example. The problem is when we add to that complexity unnecessarily, believe that complex systems require a complex approach to sustain or improve it, or assume that complexity is a higher intellectual standard than simplicity. Because we shouldn't, it doesn't and it isn't.
Take corporate circulars; that it's necessary to hire and train the world's best educated to interpret an organisation's disclosures says it all. It's a brain drain and bad for the marketplace. Thankfully in recent years a range of financial bodies have stepped up their call for clearer documentation - whether it happens is quite another issue. But it's very possible that corporate disclosures help set a kind of "complexity" standard for documentation - if they were simpler and more transparent that could well trickle through the system.
Which leads on to consultancy and professional services. Pick up the average strategic review or advisory report and you'll find a wealth of terms, statistics and flowcharts designed to impress the reader as much as they're designed to solve the problem. In fact, they probably make it worse. The same can be said of pitch documentation created in financial services. Because with complexity has come too much length, granularity and repetition - and a huge amount of wasted time and brain power in the process. And with it an indirect devaluation of intuition and instinct.
Lastly, and most problematically, leaders are addicted to complexity; an addiction created by their training, the standards they see modelled around them and the lack of transition support they get from engaging with technical issues to people ones. More Fearless Life, an initiative to illuminate and eliminate destructive fear in the workplace, would also argue that there's a certain level of fear around suggesting simple solutions in "sophisticated" environments. Encouraging c-suites to pursue Organisational Health is a classic example. It doesn't take a genius to appreciate that the hallmarks of a healthy organisation (higher morale, lower politicking, higher productivity, lower internal confusion etc) gives it an advantage. But the lack of technical complexity involved in the concept - and the methods to pursue it - too frequently leaves leadership either unwilling to justify something so simple to their board, or wondering whether there's more advantage to be had elsewhere in something more "strategically complex". There won't be. But picking up the phone to request a lengthy report with lots of "sophisticated" content feels like the more intelligent thing to do. It isn't.
But complexity doesn't just clog up an organisation or make it less accessible. Complexity adds a very real human burden. It creates unnecessary work, adds undue stress and restricts the pleasure and release derived from creative thinking and seeing the power of simplicity at work. Just ask young bankers, some of the most educated 20 somethings in history, how they exercise their brains during an average week; ironically, whilst their industry gets innovated out from underneath them.
Unfortunately, the negative impact of all this is not contained to the office. Anyone who spends any time with those in a position of responsibility knows the words "exhausted", "overwhelmed", "overstretched" are all too frequently cited. And complexity is partly to blame. But, if you're a leader, the burden is to an extent self inflicted, often the only person who can change it is you; what's more you have a responsibility to set an example for those under your direction and care.
So add the ruthless elimination of unnecessary complexity at the workplace to your list of resolutions for 2016 and create more space for you and your team to think and to be and, who knows, by this time next year you might find it's the best thing you did all year.