Occam’s Razor or Beware of the System Complicators

Clarity

I bought a disassembled propane grill one time.  There were at least a thousand parts (well, maybe not that many) and the directions were about 20 pages long.  I began a long, tedious process of following each step and carefully assembling every subcomponent.

About an hour into the assembly, the idea slowly dawned on me that something was missing: simplicity and common sense.

The factory technical writers might have thought they were helping the consumer build the grill, but they had focused so much on the minutiae of the assembly process that no one told me that there were only perhaps five or six basic steps.  What I call a “Systems Complicator” had somehow infiltrated the factory and had written the instructions. They had focused on so many details and the “micro,” of the assembly that they never told me the “macro,” or what we all call the big picture.

They forgot good old Occam.

Occam was a 14th-century Franciscan friar who posited that “More things should not be used than are necessary.” The corollaries for this abound, including the idea that the simplest explanation is the most likely one when encountering a problem or dilemma.

I’ve often expressed this philosophy in business and in life.  Occam is too often overlooked (as are Ptolemy and other philosophers who first presented the idea).  While some people’s brains seem to key on details, it invariably helps any project or challenge to first define the goal or objective and some of the key steps that need to be taken to get there.  Without that framework, we all can get so focused on the minutiae that we forget the goal. 

By complicating things with detail, we lose clarity, focus, and simplicity.  We can needlessly overload ourselves and in the process even forget why we all got together. 

Each of us takes turns being systems complicators.  It can often stem from our particular focus that day or even our basic approach to life.  Sometimes it can emerge from resistances that we feel about moving into the unknown area we call change.  By spending time with endless details in the meeting, we can effectively buy time for ourselves by continually presenting enough small challenges that we stop the idea dead in its tracks.  We can complicate the simplicity and clarity of the idea to such an extent that we lose the momentum and the big-picture view of the challenge. We system complicate it.

A key step in identifying ourselves as system complicators is to work on our own awareness of how we are really feeling about the idea.  Ask some basic questions about change next time you hear an idea:

  1. Do I understand the concept?
  2. Do I like it?
  3. Do I want to do it?
  4. Am I able to do it?

If we can honestly answer these threshold questions about our own possible resistances, we can then focus on the merits of the idea and to allow ourselves to see the overall concept rather than the details.

A fellow senior vice president at a former company once listened to an endless conversation in a senior meeting one day.  A major initiative had been proposed, with initial thoughts about goals, objectives, and frameworks. The conversation abounded about “what ifs” and “what about this?” and “we can do it this way,” for hours.  By the end of the meeting, we were all exhausted and barely remembered why we had come to the meeting.

My friend looked around the room, surveying the wreckage of an idea that had been killed by System Complicators, ruefully smiled and said, “Well I guess that’s enough reminiscing about the future.”  

Occam would have understood.

 

Dave Bushy of Boston Executive Coaches is a former senior airline executive who works with leaders throughout American industry.  Dave is also a Senior Associate with Gotham Culture.

Knowledge Transfer: The Key to Organizational Resilience and Agility

ATD

Chris Cancialosi’s article was just published in July’s issue of TD at Work.

How do organizations not only survive, but thrive in today’s new operating environment? By developing resilience and agility. Knowledge transfer is critical to this, and talent development practitioners are positioned to help companies prepare. In “Knowledge Transfer: The Key to Organizational Resilience and Agility,” Chris Cancialosi details:

  • what knowledge transfer is and why it is critical to organizations’ resilience and agility
  • the role of effective knowledge transfer in the future of work
  • ways to develop and strengthen an organization’s ability to effectively transfer and manage knowledge.

Embrace a Culture of Self-Leadership to Stay Agile as You Scale

nurse next door culture of self leadership

One of the greatest challenges for rapidly growing organizations is how to remain nimble in the midst of growth.

As companies scale, more processes are required to coordinate the growing workforce. And the additional management layers that come with them can slow an organization down.

It’s often the reason why large organizations become weighed down with bureaucracy while small companies remain quick and agile.

Consider this recent story from Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes:

“Earlier this year, an employee wanted to send a customer a T-shirt with our logo as a gift. There was nothing special about this particular shirt. It was an ordinary, 100% cotton crew neck. But by the time this employee got approval—factoring in his own time and everyone else’s up the org chart who had to weigh in before signing off on the request—the cost of this t-shirt had ballooned to at least $200.”

Many organizations today are trying to hedge against inflated processes like these by changing their organizational structures. Hootsuite, for example, appointed a “Czar of Bad Systems” to help improve internal processes.

In today’s rapidly-evolving business environment, growing organizations need to remain fast and efficient. And some large, geographically dispersed and complex organizations seem to be able to maintain a level of agility despite their size.

How do they do it?

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The Key to Making an Agile Working Policy Fly

how to make an agile working policy fly

By Chris Baréz-Brown

Agile Working has become the buzzword for how to turn your business into a thriving, creative and productive hub while attracting and retaining the best talent. It’s moving from flexible working to smarter working. And it does what it says if you follow the recipe.

Agile Working was originally created by Toyota to get production lines moving faster. It gives people the ability to work in various locations to complete the tasks necessary to do their jobs. Specific desks do not exist – you can work from a collaborative space, a breakout area, home, a café, or wherever benefits the task at hand. And employees are supported with practices and processes that allow them to be agile. Agile Working makes work seem less gray and more technicolor. It’s enticing, exciting and human. And it works.

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How To Unlock Your Potential For Innovation Through Crowdsourcing

innovation through crowdsourcing

The human mind has an incredible capacity to learn, recognize patterns, and connect pieces of information together to find new ways to approach old problems.

Unfortunately, our problem-solving abilities are limited by individual knowledge and experience. When problems are large and complex, we might not have the right data available to have any hope of finding a solution if we go it alone. And when we get stuck, collaboration can be a powerful way to find the best solution.

By sharing knowledge and experience amongst a diverse group, we can often tackle complex problems that cannot be solved alone.

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How Technology Can Save Your Company Culture During an Expansion

technology can save your company culture during expansion

As any business expands — either domestically or internationally — it can be a challenge to maintain a consistent company culture. Communication might suddenly need to bridge time zones, and messages will need to stay consistent despite language or cultural barriers. An expansion can affect organizational design and the centralization of resources, potentially making employees feel detached.

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Knowledge Management: Did You Know?

knowledge management benefits

It’s funny how things go in cycles. What was critically important to us last year may not be a concern to us today. And things we used to take for granted, we now cannot fathom living without.

Think about the Internet. Most of us weren’t even aware of it until the mid 90’s, but where would we be today without it? Although I type here from the comfort of my office chair, my office is at home and I rarely need to venture into NYC thanks to technology. My office material comes from Amazon.com and my calls are handled over a VOIP platform. All driven by the web.

Knowledge management is a similar area you’ve probably never paid attention to. Maybe you haven’t heard about it yet, but knowledge management is already affecting how you live and work.

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How to Fail Successfully

how to fail successfully

Written By Mike Irwin

My youngest daughter is a skateboarder.  With her, I’ve spent a fair amount of time at skateboarding events and at skate parks.  While I’ve been wowed many times by bold and amazing stunts, I’ve also noticed one thing:  skateboarders fall.  A lot.  Pros, beginners, veterans and young rippers all hit the deck.  Mount a GoPro on their helmet and the courage factor goes way up but it still doesn’t keep them from falling. Here’s the thing: they almost always bounce right back up.

Why is that?  Well, for one thing, they (sometimes) wear protection.  Mostly though, their ability to jump back on the board uninjured is because they know how to fall.  In skateboarding, knowing how to fall (or fail) is part and parcel to knowing how to continue to push to achieve new tricks (or success).

“Knowing how to fall is, like, a basic life skill,” one skateboarder told me.  “If I didn’t know how to fall, I wouldn’t be able to learn new tricks either.”

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Is Your Organization Ready for a New Performance Management Process?

new performance management process

If you’ve been in the workforce for at least three years, you have likely had at least one annual performance review (unless of course, you work for a firm that has abandoned the practice). As I began to draft this article, I was curious about what my colleagues had experienced in their annual reviews. Their stories are below:

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Getting Your Operations House in Order for the New Year

operations in 2017

With the start of the new year behind us, now is a great time to get your house in order from an operations viewpoint. You still need to do all the usual tasks (close the books, update payroll and 401K information, etc.), but should also have on your to-do list tasks like re-visit your employee handbook and take another look at your internal processes.

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