the complexity of simplicity, simplexity & project based companies
“This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper. “
“This is the way simplicity ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”
Simplicity may be one of the most complex concepts in the world and, yet. we relentlessly discuss it in simplistic ways. “It seems simple …” may be one of the most misused and misguided statements and thoughts in today’s world.
I tend to believe we make simplicity, well, simple because when viewed in hindsight we pick & choose what seemed like something that changed in a blink of an eye because of some simplicity.
We look backwards and point at what appears to be simplicity and say “yes, that’s it.”
Simplicity, more often than not, consists of two opposing things – 1st, security/reliability, which anchors the sense of safety thereby justifying the 2nd common sense aspect of simplicity, & passion/risk/newness, which anchors the sense of movement thereby justifying the smartness aspect of simplicity — sense of stability AND movement.
The two are opposed. Yet, in a “simple world”, if you have one, you can’t have the other.
In addition. Simplicity is at its best when the decision, or act, is a reflection of staying true to oneself <or the organization/business> and when the decision makers are in their element <not being asked to collaborate or be involved if & when it is not their strength>.
Uh oh. This means simplicity, which should be reflective of the situation at hand, is rather a reflection of two very personal things:
- Attitude: safe and risk
- Self compass: true to oneself <strengths>
And therein lies the foundation of complexity. We live in a world of collaboration and anything but individuals and individuality in business ideation & implementation . Basically, simplicity is being demanded by the whole and implemented by the parts. Aligning attitudes and desires is difficult. And so is insuring aligning in strengths in today’s idealistic view of collaboration.
And maybe that is where simplicity faces its most difficult contradiction – facing the conflict in aligning making bigness small <in vision for the whole> and capturing the importance, and bigness, of the small.
Here is what I mean.
The whole thrives on overarching simplicity while the parts thrive on the underlying simplicity of details <which are inherently simple individually but complex as a collective whole>.
Even suggesting that there are two levels of simplicity implies complexity.
But most importantly we, in business, take ideas, big & small, and try and forge them into their most simplest strongest honed forms all the while seemingly forgetting that … well … it is not just an idea, but the people involved that matter. Inevitably the idea needs to impact people’s attitudes & behaviors. And we would be silly to think that even the idea itself, as it is forged by each individual blacksmith, isn’t being crafted with some individualistic attitudes & behaviors.
In addition even if whatever you are trying to simplify sounds simple in your own mind <as an idea simplifier> the idea is more likely to be impacted by other people and other constituents. Many “simplicity arguers’ would argue that involving so many constituents makes simplicity needlessly complex … and they would be right … and wrong.
Yes. It makes it more complex.
No. They are wrong in that it is not needless. The complexity actually brings in the pragmatism of reality <and I would argue effectiveness.>.
All this means is that simplicity is rarely simple and trying to capture them in a meaningful single word is not only silly but sells the depth & breadth of a decision or situation short. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek simplicity. But what it does mean is that simple or simplicity shouldn’t be defined by rules or milestones or trite “say it in 10 seconds or less” dictates or, well, any boundaries. Simplicity is reflective of the time, place, people, situation and solution needed.
What may make simplicity even more complex is, oddly enough, that part which should make it the simplest. Simplicity, more often than not, is the nitty gritty stuff and not the more glamorous big vision or “big idea” stuff. It is about marrying principle and pragmatism and gradual improvement – piece by piece and part by part.
Simplicity is the watchword of the day. But we don’t want to give up our freedom to choose — we want options, we want products and services that fit our individual circumstances. All those choices give us the antithesis of simplicity: they give us complexity. So how do we get simplicity without giving up choice? We need simplicity and complexity together, we need simple complexity. What we want is SIMPLEXITY.
Simplexity is actually a term used in the mathematics of complexity theory. A woman named Susan Abbott hijacked it for the Marketing and Customer Experience world. Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart, authors of The Collapse of Chaos: Discovering Simplicity in a Complex World, came up with the term in this context.
Maybe it is because of his ‘simplexity’ in everything we do and own <which we love> hate at exactly the same time> we tend to want to attach ‘more’ to simplicity. I wrote once before that great simplicity seems too bare and that simplicity is not defined in how you say or communicate something, but rather how it is accepted.
Suffice it to say, great simplicity seems to beg to remain less <which too us hasty perfection-oriented people seems not enough>.
Simplicity tends to not end with a bang but rather a whimper.
Ok. I am going to end with a business point here.
Huh? Go back to the desires of the whole versus the desires of the parts point I made earlier. There are certainly business opportunities for the whole & the parts. Some call this a belief that simplicity sells, but you need complexity to scale. However, philosophically, what links any business success discussion to a whole OR parts discussion is the success of components rather than simplistic vision. Not to degrade the value of vision, but success inevitably is grounded in the grind, the confident steps taken in the interest of progress and actual “doing-type stuff.” And that is where “visionary consultants”, sometimes called “smart tree planters”, get it wrong. They envision a rich green plush forest and all the while inadvertently complicate the actual planting of the frickin’ trees.
In the absence of anything else, shit still needs to be done. And each part needs to be done well without sacrificing the wellness of the whole. The business world, and businesses in general, is ever increasingly interconnected <internally & externally> and ignoring that, simply thinking that if my part does my part well that the whole will succeed is … absolutely and completely flawed thinking.
The parts are always, always, connected in some way with the greater whole.
So therefore a project always needs to be done well and done correctly, the true winner in the project world is the one who recognizes the greater whole and can seamlessly slide its successful part into the greater whole. For a project based company the value rises up … successful project management, successful project integration into the rest of the puzzle and ultimately, even in some small way, successful involvement of the furthering of the greater vision of the whole. It is ground up value building with, I imagine, the ultimate intent to gain additional business relationship assignments up the value chain.
All that said. I believe I am simply suggesting that businesses in the project business not only build value with business partners the easiest way <pragmatically> but also build business relationships in the simplest way <through parts rather than whole>.
I also believe in today’s business world that despite some mental angst a hirer of a supplier/partner has when viewing project relationships versus long engagement relationship a hirer business actually prefers the concept of initially hiring on a project basis <seems like a trial period> and maintaining on a project basis <seems like an ability to eliminate at any point type flexibility> and extending on a project by project basis <seems like less risk because they have proven before and more value because project implies “not taking the work for granted”>.
And a project sounds so much simpler than a long term relationship. Uhm. But if I have been working with you on a project basis for over 5 years isn’t that a long term relationship?
Just one more example of how simplicity is complex.
Business and Life tends to rush toward the complex simply because it most likely offers us the perception of ‘more value’ and additional control and ‘something better’ and, yet, we yearn for this faux Utopia found in a place called ‘simplicity’.
But. Simplicity, in its heart and soul, is made up of two opposing attractive qualities: safety & consistency + risk & new.
In the end. I imagine we all simply seek simplexity.
“Men rush towards complexity, but they yearn towards simplicity.
They try to be kings; but they dream of being shepherds.”
Gilbert K. Chesterton