Our world is getting increasingly more complex and so are the challenges we face personally, organizationally, and globally. In this episode I talk to the authors of a new book, Cracking Complexity, which looks at how we can identify complex challenges, distinguish them from complicated tasks, and use a methodology to crack the complexity code.
David Benjamin leads Syntegrity's client delivery organization and its lab, and is accountable for the overall design and quality of the company's client engagements. His career has spanned a variety of industries in roles at IBM and smaller specialized consulting firms, with particular emphasis on business system design and technology development.
David Komlos is CEO of Syntegrity. For more than twenty years, he has worked with senior leaders of global companies across the Fortune 500 to help them bring fundamentally different approaches into the mainstream. He works across industries and sectors including financial services, life sciences, automotive, entertainment, governments and NGOs.
TK: So, David and David, thanks so much for joining us. The first thing I have to begin with is deconstructing this notion of complexity, which you write about so eloquently in your book, Cracking Complexity. I love the Marshall Goldsmith quote in the foreword that basically says, “Most leaders treat complex challenges as though they were simple, every day, complicated tasks.” What’s the difference? I think we all use this term, “complexity,” and “complicated” synonymously but you make a point in the book that the two are not in fact the same.
Authors: Correct. Leaders regularly encounter both complicated challenges and complex challenges and there is a big difference. Both types of challenges are difficult but they’re very different. Complicated challenges are solved problems. I’ll give you some examples; if your car breaks down and you need to fix it, that’s a complicated challenge, unless you’re an expert, unless you’re a mechanic. If you’re installing a new accounting system or a new performance management system or a new HR system or a new order management system, all of those are examples of complicated challenges. They’re linear challenges, they’re typically technical challenges and they may be very difficult to the novice, or the person experiencing these for the first time. But the good news is they’ve been solved many times before, there are lots of experts out there available to you, to do for you what they’ve done for others. They know what success looks like, they have a checklist, they know how to follow the checklist, they know how to apply their gray hair of having been involved with these kinds of challenges before. The right approach to a complicated challenge is to actually bring in the experts and have them interview a bunch of people to figure out the lay of the land and then apply their solution.
Complex challenges are entirely different; these are multi-dimensional challenges with many moving parts in unpredictable ways, with unpredictable impact on one another. These are human challenges where it’s not just enough to solve the challenge, hard enough on its own, but it’s not enough to just solve the challenge. It’s imperative to align and mobilize a critical mass of key influencers and stakeholders and doers and decision-makers if you are to see sustained execution happen. Figuring out your growth strategy is a complex challenge. Turning around a business unit is a complex challenge. Figuring out your digital strategy, launching a new product and taking it global, figuring out a loss of patent and what you’re going to do about it; in government, figuring out how to stem the opioid epidemic or how to reform healthcare, these are all examples of complex, multi-dimensional challenges where there are no pre-determined solutions, they have to be solved fresh each time and where you need that alignment.
Without distinguishing between complicated and complex, leaders are accustomed to using one type of approach, which is strike an internal task force, and if that doesn’t work, bring in consultants and have them interview people. It’s a very long approach and it doesn’t necessarily lead to the buy-in alignment and mobilization that’s necessary.
TK: That was David Komlos. Is that right? We’re going to try to keep the David’s straight here.
TK: So, David Komlos, I want to come back to this in a few minutes because I think you captured the essence of something, which is very, very important here. In every book I read, there are these takeaways that strike me like a hammer on the head. One of the takeaways from what you said – and David Benjamin, give me a comment on this. It’s that there are certain things you should not outsource and complexity is one of those things. Did I get that right? Because the complicated stuff, you can find someone to outsource that too, but the complex stuff you really need to keep in-house. Why is that? Where do we go astray in trying to get the experts to deal with our complex challenges?
Authors: When you outsource strategy or growth or an important plan to somebody from the outside of the organization, again the approach that they would generally take is what’s always worked in the past for them on whatever complicated and complex challenges they worked on, which is to set themselves up as the hub of a hub and spoke model, interviewing people and populating the solution that they understand well. The problem with that model is that the people from within and around your organization who are intimately familiar with what goes on and what is going on with the challenge, they are in conversation with somebody at the hub through interviews, and ultimately, the person at the hub or the group at the hub is going to do the solving. The people who are interviewed don’t feel ownership or necessarily even understand the solution, their involvement was in the form of answering questions and providing input to the hub. And because they don’t have their fingerprints all over the solution that results, they don’t recognize it, they don’t understand it, they don’t necessarily understand that their voice was heard and their concerns were – whether they were included or dismissed, they don’t understand why, so they don’t own it. And because they don’t own it, they won’t execute it.
Now, if you don’t outsource the challenge, if you get those same people deeply involved in figuring out the solution that they do understand and believe it, if they’ve all felt heard in that process, if they feel a sense of ownership for it, not only will they execute in order to reflect the belief that it’s the right solution, they will be driven to show the organization that they got it right, so you get that heightened sense of ownership and accountability for making it work.
TK: We all find ourselves involved in these sorts of challenges that seem to be overwhelming, there’s no starting point, they’re so complex that everything is interwoven. I recall once Michael Hammer, who wrote Reengineering the Corporation with Jim Champy, saying that some problems are so intricately woven into the fabric of the organization, it’s like trying to take the fat out of hamburgers - you have to boil the whole damn thing so the fat will rise, you can’t surgically remove some of these challenges and address them at that level. It seems to be that people must have thought about this for a long time. I mean you’ve written the book but before the book, there was a history here and you talked a bit about cybernetics and Stafford Beer. Tell us a bit about that history and that legacy that was created, that you folks leveraged, because I find that to be a fascinating back story that, frankly, I hadn’t heard about, I wasn’t aware of.
Authors: If you think about it, complexity isn’t new. There have always been problems that people have had to deal with that sort of defined path solutions and haven’t been solved before. What’s happened today is that complex challenges are compounding and they’re coming at us faster than ever. Over the last 50 – 7500 years, there’ve been a lot of very smart people who’ve spent time pondering, “How do you do better on complexity?” They have each, in their own way, contributed some great thinking and observations and insights, and what has not been a necessity is for this to be mainstream understanding, until recently. They were speaking largely to academic audiences and organizations and associations of people who are thinking abstractly about complexity, but today, everybody’s thinking about it, everybody’s encountering it. You can’t get away with just thinking about it, you need to get to action fast on the right things.
We feel like what we’ve been able to do, certainly in our own experiences over the last 17 years – 20 years doing this, is apply a lot of great thinking from other people, synthesize it, distill it, turn it into a formulaic approach that, as far as we’ve experienced, works every time.
TK: Can I take you back to a moment that you mentioned in the book, to leverage off of that last thought? You talked about Stafford, I knew some of his contemporaries; Buckminster Fuller, Russell Ackoff, these were familiar names. I never heard of Stafford but you mentioned in the book that you actually met him a few days before his passing in the hospital. Could you talk about that a bit? That was a very poignant moment from the sounds of it.
Authors: Absolutely. Stafford was really a giant in many ways and we had never heard of Stafford. We became associated with the other scientists who were revolving around him and helping him invent some of the things he was inventing and fine tune them. We were fortunate to meet him just really on his deathbed and had a very brief, very impactful conversation about how we were going to try to work with some of the things that he had put out there and fine tune them and take them forward.
Stafford was a very complex individual. What a life and what a contribution! Unfortunately, we only got to know him in his last days. I think if he had even a sense of what’s transpired over the last 20 years, informed by some of his thought and some of his inventions, I think he’d be delighted, absolutely delighted.
TK: It sounds like one of those passing the baton moments. I get goosebumps just thinking about what that must have been like, to talk to him about these subjects that you then carried on and wrote the book on the topic of. There was another figure, when you talked about Stafford in the book, a couple of folks came to mind, one was Sir Karl Popper, who was one of the philosophers of the last century, who talked about the difference between clock problems and cloud problems. He would say that one of the biggest clock problems we ever addressed was putting a man on the moon and bringing home safely to Earth again, and you allude to that in that book. You talk about that as being a very complicated problem, not necessarily a complex problem. What Hopper told us was that clock problems could be solved, they were mathematical, they were formulaic, and they had one solution. Cloud problems, which seemed to be complex in your vernacular, are problems that don’t have a singular solution. We’re conscious about chasing after the solution, the context is changing much too rapidly. What’s happened, contextually, in our world that makes complexity and this notion of a cloud problem so much more of an issue than perhaps it had been in the last century or in centuries before?
Authors: Whereas you could have gotten away with taking linear, thoughtful progressive steps towards an answer in the past and maybe spent six months to three years ultimately figuring out a solution that works in getting down to the task of implementing it. In other words, taking a sort of clock approach to the cloud problems. What’s going on lately is just the acceleration of the pace of change and also the compounding of all sorts of things that are changing all at once so that you can no longer afford to figure things out in a linear way, slowly, et cetera. You see lots of methodologies and approaches that are out there today talking about experimentation and trying things and fast fail and amplifying what works and stopping what isn’t working and allowing people to fail in the organization because that’s how you make progress, that’s also true. That is all about getting to the speed that is necessary today to deal with cloud problems.
What the formula does is really amplify the way people can be brought together to accelerate the process of figuring out what to try. You do still have to go slow to go fast, it’s not like you can just be trying everything and seeing what happens. You still have to take some time to think that through, but what you can’t afford any longer is to go slow in order to go fast. You have to go fast at going slow to go fast.
TK: Which is challenging, as human beings we find that to be enormously challenging. You have this wonderful analogy, by the way, in the book that stuck with me; you talk about complexity and use an analogy of the physical world and you say, “Imagine an earthquake and a typhoon and a flood and a hurricane all happen at once, and in the midst of all this chaos, aliens land on the planet. If that wasn’t enough, we get hit by a meteor.” It gives you this visceral sense for what it’s like to live in today’s organizations, in today’s socio-political-economic chaos. Things are changing so rapidly and I think, to a large degree, it’s as though they’re out of control, that we don’t have the ability to manage all this chaos. You used this term, which I loved, by the way. You had a bunch of things that really stuck with me but this term, “Engineering serendipity,” which sounds like an oxymoron. How can we engineer serendipity? You talked about controlled explosions, and these are wonderful metaphors but help me ground that. How do I take this chaos, this overwhelming sense of chaos, incomprehensibility of the problem and even begin to chip away with it with things like “engineering serendipity”?
Authors: I think this brings to life even some of the thoughts and writing that you’ve had on corporate instincts. The formula appears, to us at least, as an embodiment of how do you engineer corporate instinct? How do you make it happen on demand so that you are responding to stimulus at a pace that’s both reasonable and at scale in the right way and being able to institutionalize that as a capability? Engineering serendipity is about not waiting for happy accidents to happen. Water cooler conversations and so forth, you bring the right people into the room, you think it through very carefully, the challenge that you’re faced with. You frame challenges as questions: what do we have to do now over the next three years to double our growth rate? Or, what do we have to do now over the next 90 days to realize the benefits of our merger or so forth? Then you look at who are all the right people I need to inform the thinking on this challenge and who do I need bought in? When you start looking at the world through this lens of who are all the right players? What’s the diversity of talent that I need to bring to bear? Then you’re not waiting for those people to encounter one another in conversation, happenstance, by accident, you’re actually proactively tapping into that talent base.
TK: But you also say in the book that it’s not about brainpower, it’s about engineering thousands of high speed, high quality connections, what you were just talking about. When I talk to organizations about solving complex problems, what you termed to be complex problems, they typically look for the smartest and the brightest, one of the best practices. It also seems as though you’re steering us away from that, towards a different model of problem solving, which maybe is not the model that we’ve been trained in classically to use to solve problems. Can you talk about that, how do I begin? If we’re talking about brainpower, what is it about, where do I begin to chip away at this?
Authors: It’s not that the brightest and best and most experience people in the organization don’t have a role to play in figuring things out and needing execution and influencing others. But it can’t be them alone. We talk about this notion of requisite variety which comes from the area of cybernetics from a gentleman named Ross Ashby.
TK: I love that, by the way, because we’ve all heard that term and I think most of us have no idea what that term [Laughter] actually means. I love the fact that you talked about it in the book, and you did so in a very clear and concise way. I now get it. But yes, talk to us a bit about that, because I thought that was a pretty important point that you made.
Authors: Yes, there’s this natural law called the Law of Requisite Variety, which basically says that only variety destroys variety. When you’re dealing with something that’s very high variety in its nature, your only opportunity to deal with is to bring a matching amount of variety in terms of the people who are going to figure it out. When you really think about variety, really stretch your thinking of what that means, it means the best and brightest, it also means the newest into the organization, and it also means people with long tenure, and it also means the cynics, and it also means the people who are going to be tasked with solving or implementing the solution and those who may not have a direct stake but have a particular thinking style or personality that’s required to help the entire group get to a great solutions. Really importantly, it means stretching your thinking beyond the boundaries of your own organization, getting into the ecosystem and bringing in partners and maybe customers and experts in your market. Sometimes even, it’s a parallel reality, it’s another industry, for example, where a similar challenge has been solved and getting that entire group together and tasking them by working directly with each other and not through an intermediary to figure things out. That becomes a large group and that requires structure and that’s where the engineering comes in. It’s not about hoping something great happens when you have those 43 people in the room together; it’s about making sure that something important is going to happen, by structuring it, applying discipline and giving form and architecture to the way they interact.
TK: You’re reminding me of a conversation I had with a general who taught doctrine to the joint forces some years ago, John Croaker, and I asked him a question at the time during – this is during the Desert Storm period – I asked him, “How do you deal with the uncertainty in a battle field?” His response just floored me, he said, “The only way to deal with uncertainty is to match it with an equal amount of uncertainty.” That plays to what you’re talking about, but you know what, that is such a hard thing to wrap your head around. It’s not the way we’ve been trained. I wonder, when you go to an organization and you help them to understand this notion of complexity and how to deal with complex problems and complex challenges, how do you get them to wrap their head around this? Because it is so different from the way we typically approach problem solving. Is there is a methodology here that you have to apply in order to be able to change the way that they approach the problem?
Authors: I would start by saying I’m sure David Komlos would have more to say about this, but I would start by saying that, generally speaking, when you’re dealing with something that’s really complex, there’s something really important at stake. Most often, when leaders are beginning to wrap their head around what we’re talking about, it’s after they’ve tried for several months or several years to make progress on one of those perplexing and confounding challenges that they know they need to find resolution to somehow but they’ve failed in every earlier attempt. Sometimes failure means we got the strategy and we didn’t execute it, or sometimes failure means we tried to execute the strategy and it didn’t look like it was the right strategy. “It’s been years now and we’re still dealing with this and we haven’t made progress.” There’s that level of readiness to hear an alternative approach.
The other nice thing about the formula is that it is significantly faster and significantly less expensive in terms of people’s time and the amount of effort and the amount of time you’re going to require from people. It’s worth a try. “We’ve been failing, let’s try this new approach.” Generally speaking, when we’re explaining it to people, it there’s any method to what we do, it’s to connect them with other leaders who’ve been down this road and have solved something and let them do the describing of the experience.
Authors: That’s exactly right, Tom. In the early days – and we’ve been doing this for close to 20 years – in the early days, I can’t even reverse engineer how we got leaders to try this in the early, early days just because it was very difficult. But we would meet leaders who, as David said, were grappling with just something really, really big and they said, “Let’s give this a whirl.” Five years in, with the formula having a track record, it really does come to A, people being thirsty for this. B, the pace of change has become unrelenting and it’s accelerating and there’s just this acute need for better ways to perform and faster at the pace of change. As David said, not you just put leaders in touch with leaders and they just tell each other what’s possible.
TK: I want to come back to this notion of complexity formula and the 10 steps that you outline in the book and focus in on a few of the steps that I found especially interesting. If we back up a little bit and we look at the problem again, one of the dimensions of it, that you discussed, is this shift from scarcity thinking, which is an era where we manage things – we built products that were finite and formulaic, to this era of abundance. We hear a lot about abundance thinking lately, but talk to be about how you apply it within the book.
Authors: I think Clay Shirky said it to us when he said, “Abundance breaks more things than scarcity.”
TK: I love that.
Authors: We’re seeing business models that are built up on a scarcity model, meaning, in the past, if I needed a ride I had to go through a taxi dispatch that had access to all the different cars that were available, and they were able to thrive. The taxi dispatch was a good business to be in, it had access to supply and meet with demand and have to go through an intermediary. The same is true for booking travel, etcetera. As you give access to the end-user, to all the actual abundance that’s available, that’s been latent, when you activate that and make it available to the end-user, it changes industries.
The same is true for us in the way we view talent. There is no shortage of talent and this is getting back to your question about brainpower and the best and brightest. Talent is table stakes and brainpower is table stakes, necessarily but insufficient. It’s widely available, it’s ubiquitous and what is lacking are ways in which to tap into latent talent and activate it to solve challenges. The prevailing model for solving challenges is bring in the few who are best in brightest, whether they’re internal to our organization, strike a task force, or bringing in the best consultants, the best and brightest, and have them orchestrate the solving. That was the model that continues to be a prevailing model but when you can actually tap into the latent that is inside and all around your organization, you don’t need to go through an intermediary task force or consulting firm to get at it, you can actually apply the formula for example and tap into that abundance of talent. That changes the way you power up in the face of complexity, that changes the pace of at which you can get after the challenges.
TK: It’s funny, I mentioned John Croker earlier, he earlier, the general, the who taught doctrine, one of the examples he gave me that I think ties into what you’re just saying is that – he put me in a hypothetical Humvee in a middle of a dust storm on the desert – a sand storm rather – and he said, “Let’s say you’re driving 60 miles an hour and the sand storm kicks up, what’s your instinct? Your instinct is to slow down.” It seems to me when I look at most organizations, we’re so fluttered with data and with information and with intelligence and analytics that, frankly, it’s slowing us down in many ways, it’s not speeding us up. I have to wonder, how much of that is basically the fact that we just haven’t been trained to deal with the complexity of the world today. Our educational system seems to be failing us when it comes to teaching us the skills we need to deal with these issues. Do you see that as well or am I off base there?
Authors: We haven’t been trained to think this way or to approach complexity this way. We also tend to train leaders to believe that they are failing as leaders when if they can’t figure things out or if they can’t see the way forward, if they can’t envision the future. They need to be retrained to recognize that complexity is – it’s not them, complexity is bigger than any individual or smaller group. That Law of Requisite Variety, again, says the only way to deal with it is to get together a large number of people with sufficient variety.
The training is both a barrier in terms of how we learn to approach these things and that nobody ever got fired for hiring the big five, those sorts to tenets. Also the fact that we have been trained in fact to the contrary of how we have to think about this and how we have approach this. The whole notion of leadership and how leadership behaves when facing the really big problems, just needs to be re-understood.
TK: You’ve got a great visual – a leadership visual in the book, which I loved, the lion at the desk. Talk to us a bit about that because I thought that was a very cool way to encapsulate a lot of the challenges that leaders face in taking action on some of these issues.
Authors: Basically, we use a metaphor of somebody arriving in their office one morning and finding a ferocious lion sitting on their desk. When we’re talking in front of audiences or when we’re talking to individual leaders and say, “What would you do in that case?” Of course, everybody says, “The moment I see the lion, I slam the door and I’m running away.”
TK: [Laughter] I love it, that’s great. Absolutely. We do that on a daily basis, I think. That describes you walk into your office each day and there’s a different lion sitting on your desk.
Authors: Right. But there’s a lot going on in your human nervous system in that split second when you decide to take action. There’s the sensing of the fact that there’s a lion sitting there, there’s the absorbing of the implications of that and that this lion is somewhere he shouldn’t be, lions like to eat people. Thinking about what that means and what are my options, the deciding on an option and in acting the one you’ve chosen, and all of that happens in the blink of an eye because you are on integrated nervous system as a human being. When you think about that metaphorical line, in terms of other challenges facing our organizations and you think of the organization as the entity that’s encountering the lion, there’s a nervous system but it’s fragmented. It’s distributed across many siloed functions and siloed business units, the absorbers aren’t necessarily in direct contact with the thinkers, so there’s this linear process of needing to process – first of all, recognize that there’s a lion, process what that means, think through options, decide on one and then bring the action plan to a wholly different group to do something about it. That is slow, that is ineffective and you really need to instead think about those functions – sensing, absorbing, thinking, deciding and acting - as being one effort. With all of those different people who participate in those roles within whatever the context of the challenge is, getting them all together to just resolve things fast and get to action after they’ve figured things out together.
TK: Are you guys familiar with the OODA loop and the process of that details - observe, orient, decide, and act, that’s been used in military aviation for some time? It sounds very similar to what you just described.
Authors: A lot of the time, from my understanding, OODA is in the context of a pilot flying and encountering stimulus that he or she has to respond to. The difference between that and complexity and OODA, relevant to complexity, is that OODA has to be done in the context of many individuals all together, all at once. A pilot can be faced with a threat or an opportunity and observe it very clearly and decide very quickly what to do about it. An organization – no single individual can observe exactly what’s going on, whether it’s a threat or an opportunity, no single individual can think through all the implications and come up with a solution that all of a sudden your organization is going to execute in a unified manner. OODA has to be done in large groups where you end up with A, a richness of understanding of what’s really going on, what really matters, what doesn’t matter and then you end up with a unified large group of people, a critical mass of people who can then execute, much the same way that a pilot would need to execute on the threat or an opportunity.
TK: Which is a fascinating way to look at it because this is ultimately the complexity of the organization itself has increased monumentally, through virtualization, through globalization, we’re dealing with many decision-makers, many observers, they’re all simultaneously trying to take action and coordinating that action is a difficult thing to do, if at all possible. You lay out what you call the Complexity Formula, which are these 10 steps that make up the heart and soul of the book. We can’t go through all of them but there are a couple that caught my attention, that I was hoping we could talk a bit about. One was this notion of eliminating noise, and I think that we all, on a personal level, we get that but talk to us about what you mean when you talk about eliminating noise as part of your complexity formula.
Authors: There is such an abundance of data and information and now knowledge and such a wide spread availability of it, it’s ubiquitous. When you’re dealing with any kind of challenge that has a lot of moving parts, it’s very hard to judge what matters and what you should pay attention to and what I literally just noise. You really have to think through as you’re getting together a requisite variety group. What is it that they need in order to level set where they start their conversation? What, from all of the available inputs and stimulus, do they not have that they will need in order to get started? Then, we also suggest – recommending very heavily on the tacit knowledge of information data, the beliefs, opinions, that they carry into the room. It gets back to getting the right people together. When you bring the right people together and you feed them enough information to have a baseline understanding where they could start, they will very quickly be talking about what really matters in terms of the challenge that they’re trying to solve.
The second thing that I think is really profoundly important to understand, is that if you embrace this notion of variety, you are bringing together people who do not share the same language. They might come from different silos within your organization, they might come from separate organizations, they might be engineers and doctors and patients in the room together. It’s very easy to rush through the task of getting everything with a shared understanding of the basic language and what they’re dealing with and try to get the action before they’ve had a chance to level set. Another way they we eliminate the noise is to give them time to – and in fact hold them back from trying to solve anything and figuring anything out, until they’ve had a frustrating set of with each other, sharing information, coming to understand that each other’s positions on things. I say frustrated because what they really want to do is get down to the task of solving, but you can’t, and you can’t get to action until you’ve got shared understanding.
TK: I get all that, but I would submit that we’ve almost become addicted to the noise, to the point where we welcome it and we want to create more of it. Our devices, which surround us, the data which we’re swimming in and drowning in some cases. There’s always someone in the team – or a few folks in the team that just want to create more and more noise and they think by adding more data, we will make the problem clearer and clearer, when in fact, what we’re doing is obfuscating it with the volumes of data that we have. How do you deal with that piece of it?
Authors: There seems to be an addiction to data and stimulus and we seem to be lacking the ability to go deep now in exploration and dialogue and search for meaning and search for deeper insights. We are satisfying our brains with the superficial, so a lot about the formula is getting a large group of people that each bring in vast amounts of data, information, experience, expertise to get into meaningful dialogue about meaning and less so about what other data are we missing and so on and so forth. The complex challenges that we have in the world, of course, they require a good amount of data and the right data, but data is not what is going to solve the multidimensional challenges that we face in societies and large organizations, it’s rare that we’re missing pivotal data that we can’t get our hands on with a little bit of effort. What’s really missing is deeper levels of knowledge and shared understanding and wisdom – again, informed by data but not high, high, high volumes of data.
Authors: I want to actually just very quickly come back to the notion of instinct. Certainly, what we’ve observer is when you get the right people together, they have collectively a tremendous instinct for what matter and what doesn’t matter and they might try to defer figuring things out by saying, “We don’t have all the research that needs to be done. We don’t have all the data that we need access to.” But if you push them to take group guesses based on everyone in the room and what they tacitly believe, quickly find that they’re right far more often than they’re wrong and probably get to the heart of the matter much faster than any kind of research really could. We’ve been in cases where the instruction to the group is to take your best guess and state your assumptions. “I will go test these assumptions later.” I would say, from my experience having observed that, the assumptions are almost always validated afterwards as opposed to being shown to be false.
TK: What I love about what you both are doing and what you talk about in the book and which you just captured in your comment is that you’re opting the human game, you’re taking a very human approach to problem solving. I think in an era where we’re surrounded with prolific technology and an abundance of data, it’s important to look at how that changes the role of a human being in the process of problem solving and in many ways, it enhances it. I think it elevates it, it creates more value, but it’s a different way of looking at how we create that value. That brings me to complex formula step number seven, which I adore, it what you call the “New currency of solving complex challenges.” You call it putting people on a collision course, which sounds pretty nasty but, you know what, I’m drawn to it. tell us a bit about how it helps to put people on a collision course, what does that mean? What’s the benefit of that?
Authors: We certainly believe that the word “interaction” is far too weak to explain what has to happen amongst a group of people, you’ve brought them together, interaction is passive; a collision is intentional. A collision suggests friction and tension and abruptness and import, and we mean all of that when we talk about collision as opposed to interactions. Ultimately, it is a human experience and the experience of colliding with someone else is very human experience and it gets you emotional, it gets you off your game, it gets you off your behavior. What we do - what the formula is it forces people into all sorts of collisions with all sorts of other people very, very rapidly, in ways that they don’t expect, can’t anticipate and can’t rig. That’s how you get at what the group knows and what the group believes, by having people shed the things they came in with, they’re beliefs, their biases. Again, we have found that when you do this fast enough, in high enough volume with great quality, these collisions are what drives solutions and drive a will to execute.
Authors: Importantly, Tom, it only takes a day, two days, three days when you know how to orchestrate these collisions, and we lay it out in the book, how to do that, to get at what would normally take many months or longer of effort, both in terms of the quality of the thinking that emerges and the quality of the solutions, whether the strategic or tactical, and the buy in and alignment that is so elusive under normal circumstances.
TK: It’s intentional, I think that’s the piece of it that draws me, is often these collisions happens, as you said, around the water cooler with serendipity, and if you give them enough time, enough collisions will occur, but we just don’t have the time. The intentionality is the key in the way that you present it, correct?
Authors: Correct. That’s exactly correct. What you said earlier about elevating the human and the effort of problem solving, that is the last advantage [Laughter] today around humans, we have the creativity, the judgement skills, the wisdom, the ability to solve and plan and think ahead and create and technology can give, certainly, data and data warehouses and so on and so forth can give temporary advantage.
TK: It’s a very hopeful book in that respect because I think what you’re doing is you’re opening up a door or a window, or whatever metaphor you want to use, into a different way of thinking about the value that we create as human beings, especially in a time when we feel so overwhelmed by the technology and the data. I think that to me is a very hopeful message. Can I ask you a question? As authors, not as consultant but as authors, whenever authors write a book – and you’ve done a marvelous job with Cracking Complexity - it takes a life of its own on and there are these aha moments, when someone comes back to you after they’ve read the book and they say something to you which really takes you by surprise, it wasn’t how you intended the book perhaps or it may be even an aspiration of the book, but it’s always wonderful to hear people interpret the book through their own lens. What are some of the “Aha” moments that you’ve had so far? I know the book is roughly new, but there must be some of those that you’ve already experienced, what were they like? What were they?
Authors: As we set out to write this, we were writing a formula – a 10-step formula – whose individual steps together produce amazing results by the end of its application. What has shocked me in a great way is, first of all, realizing having written it all down, just how valuable the individual steps are and how applicable they are on their own. If you do nothing but apply step two, which is about expressing your complexity as a challenge, you’re going to be far better at getting started on things than you are today or framing meetings in ways that are interesting and compelling to people, that was the observation.
As we finished the book, as we started to talk to people, that’s the experience I’m hearing a lot about from people who may not be facing massive complexities but they know that their organization does and they see things in the book, in the individual steps that if we just started doing that, if we just started having critics and meetings, whose one job is to listen to people and then offer a challenge to group during a couple of intermittent moments during the meeting, we’re going to have better meetings. I love that and I want to start applying that. That’s been my surprise. David, I don’t know if you have something different to answer.
TK: Yes, David Komlos, what about you? What were your aha moments?
Authors: I’ve had a few people say that David looks better in the picture, [Laughter] in the inside flap of the book than I do.
Authors: I’m not surprised by that at all.
Authors: That was an aha moment. That was definitely an aha moment. I share David’s aha moment, which is he said it very well. The aggregate of the formula is just this power tool in solving big challenges in all manner of organization, all manner of mandate and yet people find meaningful value in the individual steps in the formula, even when they’re disconnected from all the other steps.
TK: You’ve done a wonderful job. I think you’ve captured the essence of the present moment that we inhabit which, again, is one that I think in many ways it frightens us because we don’t have the tools to deal with it and you’ve created, I think in Cracking Complexity, a tool kit that helps us to navigate a very difficult uncertain and complex future. David Komlos, David Benjamin, thank you both so much for joining us on Foresight Radio today.
Authors: Thank you so much, Tom.
Authors: Thanks for having us.