Monday, January 22, 2024

Complexity is a Crude State, Simplicity Marks the End of a Process of Refinement

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

This one’s like gravity – not just a good idea, it’s the law

It’s my privilege to help leaders develop strategies for complex organizations.

A recurrent refrain is ‘our business strategy is too complicated to explain simply.’ If so, do we really understand our strategy?

Don’t want to be misunderstood. I am all for deep dives into complexity armed with the latest analytical methods.

Doing so helps us understand our key gaps with respect to technology, customer experience, capability, culture and management systems.

With one proviso: we come out of the deep dive with 1) a clear purpose/destination, and 2) clear logic as to how we’re going to get there.

By clear logic, I mean something like: ‘To achieve our aspiration, the following things have to be true: 1) ..., 2) ..., 3) …..’

(Here’s another caveat: if our business strategy is truly too complicated to explain simply, maybe we’re too big… But that’s another blog.)

Simplicity reflects refinement in many other endeavors besides strategy. The great masters in art and music tend to refine, condense, concentrate, and consolidate as they develop.

Picasso famously evoked the figure of a massive bull with a single line. Count Basie’s piano solos are famous for their brevity, often no more than a few notes.

Ditto B.B. King, whose blues guitar solos are so ‘simple’ that ‘anybody’ can play them. (Guitarists can attest to how hard it is to play so ‘simply.)

Why then do we like complexity in strategy?

To a great degree, that’s how we’ve been trained. Business schools love complex analytical tools and equally complex case studies. You can fill a semester nicely thereby.

And students, usually perfectionist & driven (like yours truly), gobble them up. “I know something now!”

As I said, that’s all fine, provided we come out the other side with clarity & simplicity.

Another reason is that complexity in strategy can reduce accountability, and therefore individual risk. It’s hard to be wrong if nobody understands what you’re proposing.

There is no objective test. By contrast, defining a clear Purpose, and the logic as to how we’ll get there is testable, and therefore puts you on the spot.

Therein lies another important misunderstanding. We’ve been taught, wrongly, that the purpose of strategy is to be ‘right’.

And that’s wrong – and the topic of our next blog.

Best regards,


In case you missed our last few blogs... please feel free to have another look…

Can Lean & Agile Help to Fix Our Courts? Part 4
Can Lean & Agile Help to Fix Our Courts? Part 3
The Role of Senior Leaders (Part 1)
Can Lean & Agile Help to Fix Our Courts? Part 2

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