“Don’t throw complication at the face of complexity: when procedures take over from purpose”

by Didier Marlier on Saturday October 26th, 2013

This is what I received a few days ago from a British (obviously Eurosceptic) friend:

Pythagoras’ Theorem: 24 words.
Lord’s Prayer: 66 words.
Archimedes’ Principle: 67 words.
Ten Commandments: 179 words.
Gettysburg Address: 286 words.
US Declaration of Independence : 1,300 words.
US Constitution with all 27 Amendments: 7,818 words.
EU Regulations on the Sale of Cabbages: 26,911 words

It reminded me of this amazing simulation brought to me by British consultant, Tony Page, which you see me play with 200+ people in São-Paulo two years ago.

We are migrating from a simple/complicated environment to a new one, where two other components are added: Complexity and Chaos. And there is nothing more dangerous than “responding by complication to complexity”.

Try to imagine the nightmare that would be the task of a leader, in the simulation shown hereabove if he were to try and control this by himself. To remind you, the rule of the simulation are as follows:

  • Each participant has to identify two others who will be his/her reference points.
  • The individual task of each participant is to remain at equidistance of his/her two reference points. The simulation is over when the whole ensemble has come to a standstill.

There are a few constraints:

  • One can’t indicate in any manner who their two reference points are
  • One should stay within the given boundaries of the simulation (in the shown case, it was the convention room)
  • One cannot try to solve this by talking to other participants

I let you imagine what a mess it would be if you’d nominate a unhappy leader to try and sort this out… The best and most efficient way is to ensure people understand what the overarching purpose is and how they fit in and can influence it. It is equally mission critical that they understand the few “Killer’s rules” and then… Let them go!

I am a convinced European. Maybe have we let procedures take over from our generous and humanist purpose!

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