Skyscraper Building

Don’t sweat the complexity

I’ve just read Suzette Corr’s insightful (and refreshingly human) piece, “Who’s driving your leadership?” that features a statement attributed to the author Erica Ariel Fox that

“The art of successful leadership, strategy and communication is to make the complex simple.”


Spend enough time (actually, spend any time) in the business transformation/organisational development/ people and culture space and complexity will rear its hydra-like head. And yet, even though complexity is a, ‘Sure As Night Follows Day’ consistent in business (and increases in its scope and breadth all the time), the prevailing response to complex scenarios is to treat them like they’re some sort of new and rampant killer virus that has suddenly appeared.

We take a different view of complexity.

We look at it not as some complicated, unfathomable mass, but as a fundamental part of any organisation (especially so for those engaged in transformation, restructuring or development).

Part of the issue people have with complexity is that nobody in an organisation can have a total vision and understanding of all the attributes that make up the state of complexity.

This is because complexity takes many forms: sociological, technical, or sometimes the level of ambiguity in a project, for example. You may be a master of numeracy and process, but that doesn’t mean you can see or navigate the complexities in the political plays behind the strategy. Ditto the mindset of those working in the softer, people spaces; they don’t need to understand the heavy process drivers.

Yet people tend to react to complexity by:

• Simplifying it, in the hope more people will wrap their heads around what it means
• Dismissing it, because they don’t even know where to start comprehending it, and utilising it.

Instead, we say to organisations, “Why struggle with the concept of complexity, when you don’t have to?”

The light bulb moment for our clients is when we show them the Map of the Internet.

It’s a truly beautiful piece of information design, highly complex at first glance, yet with further investigation it begins to reveal its detail. The wonderful thing about the Map is that you can go as deep as you want, or leave where your need to interact ceases.

We all understand what the internet does, and its value, which has been proven. So we don’t have to dive into the incredible complexity of what it is, how it works, and what its potential and challenges are (of course if you want to do so, go crazy…).

We just accept that it works, that the internet’s complexity is what it is, something that’s absolutely required to make it an effective entity. And we can appreciate that many, many hyper intelligent, hard-working, committed and engineering-minded types built it.

The same applies to the complex nature of transformation and change.

Because there’s something really comforting, and satisfying, in knowing the complexity is there, for a reason. And when we do that, when we don’t sweat the complexity, we actually remove a layer of complexity, give ourselves the remit to get on and do what we need to, and get on with the job.

* Map of the internet (from