Increasing complexity requires increasing agility

The need to be agile and the need to collaborate in a cross-disciplinary fashion will be crucial to your future career.

In a simpler world we could move more slowly. We could act more decisively based on our own experience and knowledge.

In the complex world we live in everything has sped up, time is squeezed, and it’s very difficult to be certain about anything. So, how do we deal with it?

We need to be flexible, agile, adaptable. When the going gets fast, the fast get going. We need to move away from cumbersome projects (projects are the dinosaurs of organizational life) and embrace continuous improvement processes. The Projects culture is like butter in the organizational artery because the project itself often becomes the focus. The project should help us achieve an objective. However, in the end, the project often becomes the objective.

“I delivered the project on time.”

“Did it work?”

“I don’t know but I delivered it on time.”

We need to make decisions based on evidence of what customers do not what they say they do or what we think they do. In a complex world opinion is radioactive. Where are the facts? The greater the complexity the less we can rely on intuition. “If you are not completely confused by quantum mechanics, you do not understand it,” the physicist John Wheeler stated. According to Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his book Fooled By Randomness, “Most results in probability are entirely counterintuitive … What sounds intelligent in a conversation or a meeting, or, particularly, in the media, is suspicious.”

The more complex the system the more likely it is to be affected by a random event. Random events cannot, by definition, be planned for. We deal with randomness by being highly adaptable, by engaging in a heightened process of trial and error. We need much more planning and much less plans. As Walter Truett Anderson once said: “Reality isn't what it used to be.”

Complexity demands collaboration. Maybe in primitive societies that existed during the Stone Age, the Big Man was all-wise and could sort out most problems. But in modern societies there is no more poisonous idea than the belief that we just need to find a Great Leader and all problems are solved.

In fact, it is not just enough to collaborate within a group or discipline. We need much more cross-group and cross-discipline collaboration. There are two reasons. Firstly, we participate in a network. What we do has an impact on other parts of the network and vice versa. For example, if in an intranet some entity launches a new training initiative it will have an impact on any other training initiatives that are already there. How? It impacts search: more search results that contain the word “training”. It impacts navigation in a similar way. Practically nothing can exist in isolation today.

Secondly, the more complex the problem the more multi-disciplinary the solution required. Whenever I have seen great success in websites I have seen people from multiple disciplines (marketing, communications, IT, design, usability, service, support, content) working closely together.

Complexity has no easy answers. There is nothing fundamental. No absolute laws. The right answer today might be slightly off by next month. We need to be nimble, adaptive, curious, outward-looking and evidence-driven.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *