Legend tells us the “Silver Bullet” is the one-and-only weapon that can bring down a werewolf. I find it interesting that this legend lives within corporate meeting rooms. Managers and their supporting analysts spend countless hours trying to reduce problems down into the single root that will end all their worries. This, I think, is a fruitless search because it misses the point.
There is no “Silver Bullet”
Life is a complex system. Complex systems can be thought of as layers of interrelated domains that interact in unpredictable ways. So unpredictable, in fact, that we must make critical assumptions just to make planning possible. This can be challenging because when we change something in a complex system, the system will react. The reactions can sometimes be surprising, or take years to come back around. So, how could a complex system be managed with a ‘fix-all’ solution like a silver bullet?
Take, for example, penicillin. It seems like a great example of a silver bullet – doesn’t it? Yet, we are now dealing with increasingly more difficult strains of antibiotic resistant organisms, because we underestimated complex life’s ability to adapt.
There is no penicillin that is going to solve your problem. In fact, the more you reduce your perspective of the problem, the more ineffective the solution becomes. Whether it is because of lack of time, lack of other resources, reducing participation and ignoring connections will eventually lead to more failure.
If you accept that you and your company exists in a complex ecosystem, you can begin to understand how it connects to other layers, domains and interests. If you have the expertise, you can attempt to model it (there are tremendously powerful mathematical models that can help you). Attempt to involve people who control nodes that operate in the layers into your problem solving process.
Avoid Large Scale Change
You probably don’t want to hear this, but take it slow. Choose evolution over revolution. Enable local agency to promote organizational change. Local agency means empowering action at the lowest (local) level.
A great business example of this is the Toyota Production System. It is based on principles that promote changes in a manufacturing system on the “Gemba” or shop floor. The principles are based on “Kaizen” or small, incremental change made by front-line employees. Local agency is necessary because these people understand their dependencies and see the fabric of their complexity better than top management.
Involve Everyone You Can in the Problem
A leader I once followed suggested that the more people you involve in the problem, the more potential points of friction you create. He was right; however, whether we like it or not, anyone who has a stake in the problem will eventually emerge. So you must decide- do you want to explore all the friction up-front, or allow it to emerge throughout the process?
As the process moves along it incurs cost in dollars and people’s time. If a point of friction emerges halfway through that derails the development of the solution, then all the cost is for nothing. It is better to deal with the friction up-front.
These are just a few tips on how to deal with complexity. Over the next few weeks I will be publishing more posts on complexity and how to build the involvement of people in your company.
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