There’s no lack of newspaper articles, blog posts, and self-help books out there that aim to improve your life by making things simpler.
No matter whether it’s the Huffington Post and their 16 ways to simplify your life or Forbes and six ways to simplify your career, the overwhelming message is that complexity is to be feared and simplicity is the key to getting ahead.
It’s a common reaction, for sure. When you feel like you have far too many balls in the air to juggle them all it can be tempting to cut back and focus on a few that you decide matter more than all the others.
But when we cut out the complexity, scale back to what we think we can control, and decide that everything outside of that is ‘noise’ that can be safely ignored to our benefit, we are also closing ourselves off from the wonders of complexity.
Instead of closing the door to complexity, why not try and take advantage of it?
Mo’ Money, No Problems?
Research has demonstrated that increasing complexity can be more beneficial to individuals and to companies than decreasing complexity.
One study by McKinsey found that increasing complexity could benefit almost everyone:
The number of customers you have; the number of products or services you deliver; the extent to which people cooperate and multi-task within your organization; the number of countries you operate in; and the number of people you employ all increase the level of complexity in your company as well as helping you to make more money. Handled well, this kind of complexity helps rather than hinders your company’s performance.
Managing complexity effectively had three primary benefits, McKinsey claimed: higher returns for the company, decreased costs for the company, and improved employee satisfaction.
Who wouldn’t want more revenue, lower costs, and happier workers? What’s the catch?
The ‘catch’ is that these benefits start to flow to companies and individuals when they admit that complexity exists, then lean into and embrace that complexity, and effectively manage their complex systems. Critically, they don’t come through simplifying complex systems but by taking advantage of the complexity to the benefit of company, employee, and customer alike.
Simplicity to Complexity
When I first visited the Santa Fe Institute I made sure I bought one of their t-shirts with the words From Simplicity to Complexity emblazoned across the chest.
More than a few times have people stopped me to explain what they presume to be a printing error. Wasn’t it meant to be ‘From Complexity to Simplicity’, they’d ask. I’d explain that, no, this was no error but that it represented the sort of thinking that the Santa Fe Institute was established to embody: there’s value to identifying, embracing, and mastering complexity.
In a world that is increasingly interconnected and incredibly complex, we lose an enormous amount of value by trying to break things down to what is simple. Taking advantage of complexity, on the other hand, can help make companies more successful, more profitable, and help them make their employees happier, too.
Forget making things more simple than they are – isn’t it time you started looking for ways to leverage the complexity in your life and in your business?