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Why do we make things unnecessarily complicated?!?

A big innovation project fails.

A pseudo-post-mortem reveals that Pat and Chris made decisions that turned out to be wrong. Pat and Chris experience professional consequences: possibly a poor performance appraisal; maybe a low annual salary increase or reduced bonus; perhaps even a formal reprimand, or termination.

A task force puts new checks in place to prevent bad decisions, requiring additional layers of higher-level approvals. Teams are trained both in the new processes and in better decision-making methods. These continue until the next big project failure. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Soon, people need executive sign-off in triplicate just to get pencils from a guarded office supplies room – the blue copy for security, the pink copy for accounting, and the white copy for the staff member’s CYA file.

Does this story sound familiar?

Organizations tend to meet complexity with complexity. Failure is bad, so complicated redundancies, approvals, and documents are mandated. People are trained to behave irrationally, either by formal training programs, or, more commonly, through rewards and punishments. Those that want to behave rationally spend more mental energy on “workarounds” to the kluge of patchwork processes than they do on solving customer problems.

It's all part of being risk averse. Failure is painful, so we try to avoid the pain. We get safe and comfortable. At least until someone with creative fortitude kills our organization with their innovation.

As Brené Brown puts it on the cover of her book Rising Strong, “If we are brave enough, often enough, we will fall.” Innovation involves risk. Risk involves the possibility of failure. Innovation efforts are going to fail on occasion. Complicated systems will not stop that.

The world is a complex, chaotic place. Innovation efforts are that much more complicated because they are directed at an inherently unpredictable future. The answer to the challenge of this complexity is not, however, additional complexity. The answer is simplicity.

Simple is empowering. Complexity is debilitating. Adding complexity to a complex system just adds more possibilities for catastrophic breakdowns.

What is simple? Simple, as Bill Jensen eloquently put it, is “the art of making the complex clear.” Simple is taking into account the myriad of complexities in the world and coming away with a cohesive understanding of how it all works together.

Live by the innovation mantra, “Love chaos. Hate confusion.” Embrace the chaos that surrounds you. Fighting it will only exhaust you. Instead, make sense of it. Filter out the irrelevant, organize the relevant, and eliminate the confusion.

Keep innovation simple. Your simplification efforts will be rewarded with far more successful innovation.

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