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“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler”

I would add another layer to that maxim: that neither should they be made any more complicated.



Whilst many complicated issues are often over-simplified for the sake of sound bites (not soundbytes, look it up), the converse is also true, but I believe the reasons are far more insidious.


On more than one occasion i've watched in disbelief as a change initiative has drowned in data; dragged beneath the surface by a never-ending barrage of demands for pareto charts, documentation, layered audits and the grand-daddy of them all, the dreaded review meeting.


That's not to say that some of these things aren't necessary.


Sometimes they are. Mostly they're not.


The sad reality is that, over time, the extra effort involved in creating all this information disengages those involved and the whole thing slowly grinds to a pathetic halt.


That's why, whenever I am asked to look at an initiative that has stalled, I asked two things - who were the greatest proponents of this programme, and who were it's biggest detractors.


The first group are those I will be counting on for help. The latter are nearly always the cause. They are very often the source of the drive for over-documentation and death-by-data.


Making things more complicated than they need to be is the destroyer of initiative, the stifler of all things creative and the nemesis of any change programme.


A word on meaning is probably in order before we continue:


Complicated means, as far as I understand it, something made up of lots of parts or elements that, when dealt with systematically using a specific methodology, can be solved repeatedly as long as the same rules are applied.


An example would be fixing an engine, building a shopping centre or carrying out open heart surgery.


Lots of elements, but as long as you don't do anything outside of the accepted standard, you should be fine.


Complex is a different matter altogether. Complex means that there are very few rules that can be applied or, if they can, they vary according to the specific environment.


It's easy to see why many people use the words interchangeably. But that's a mistake. Especially when dealing with people.


When it comes to organising a workforce, implementing changes to human systems or addressing cultural issues in a business, any rules we might bring to bear on the situation may or may not apply.


It depends. On the people, the prevailing attitudes, historical context, and so on.


And this is why over-complication is a problem.


Treating complex systems as if they were complicated. or worse, foisting complication on them by creating rules and standards where they shouldn't exist is like putting sugar in the petrol tank of the system. Not good.


I would always recommend, when carrying out organisational change, to err on the side of over-simplification.


And keep a close eye on anyone suggesting otherwise.

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