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Complexity is a bit Complicated

July 18, 2012 2 comments

Complexity is not the same as complicated. To some, it might be semantics, but I do not think so. The difference might just explain:

  1. Why organizational silos still exist and will continue to exist,
  2. Why customer journey’s (and experiences) are fragmented

The  difference is this: Complicated speaks to the number of elements within a system, Complex speaks to the dependence, more specifically, the interdependence between two elements or among many elements of a system.

Taken from “Complex Adaptive Systems” by John H. Miller and Scott E. Page:

“Complexity is a deep property of a system, whereas complication is not. A complex system dies when an element is removed, but complicated ones continue to live on, albeit slightly compromised.”

So What, you might say. I am creating a nuance where one does not exist, making the whole topic, well, more complex…  Let me try and explain. There is child’s game that we used to play (there are few of them that fit this description actually) where in each turn the player needs to take out one block hoping that the tower does not collapse. If it collapses, you lose. In the beginning, the blocks represent a complicated system, the removal of one element does not alter the integrity of the whole. As the game progresses however, the dependence between the elements increases until the removal of an element causes the whole thing to fall down. The system progressed from complicated to complex.

So What?

Well, let’s think this from a customer journeys and customer experiences perspective. Organizations provide dozens of touch-points for their customers; in-person, phone, email, Web, Social (Facebook, Twitter, Community…) and many more. The customer experience correlates to their journey with each touch-point adding some facet to the overall experience. This could be deemed a complicated ecosystem of touch-points, take one away and the system keeps working, though not as well as it did before. Here is the problem, if you create dependencies between and among the touch-points there is a risk of the whole thing collapsing if one falls down. For example, if you use a link shortener (say bit.ly) embedded in an email newsletter that points to a YouTube video, how many failure points exist and which are in your direct control after you hit ‘send’?

What about the next generation of business, a Social Business. I myself have written and talked about breaking down the silos, collaborate with others within your organization, different departments and all that good stuff. But wait, did we just alter the risk factor? Did it get better or worse. Once the silos are broken down, and their is a dependence created, there is risk, right? A manager from another department could reassign a resource or customer service is now dependent on engineering to answer a question. As organizations become less complicated, do they become more complex? What do the dependencies now created do to the greater organization, the goals and the strategy. This is not a rhetorical question, I would like some help. I have written about both collaboration and coordination, with the later more important in this context.

What does it mean

It means simply that the interconnection points (the lines on most diagrams) are the complex things and the ones that are most important. If one of the lines is workflow, that needs careful planning and attention. If one of the lines is communication between two people, two departments or two pieces of technology make sure you understand exactly what dependencies have been created between the two elements. On the one hand, you might tightened a gap, made things more efficient, on the other hand, you might have created a risk, a single point of failure. From my vantage point, businesses have always been complicated, now they are really complex.

Please share your thoughts, thanks!

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