Peter Hall takes a peek down the rabbit hole of complex organisations, and outlines the smart simplicity way to rewire and tame the organisational Mad Hatter
If you take a peek through the looking glass of work, there are probably some distinct differences from the forward thinking places where innovation, creativity and change are embraced, and staff engagement and productivity are being optimised.
A lot of people aren't fortunate enough to work for such enlightened companies.
The majority (especially in very complicated businesses in the public and third sectors) are stuck with leadership which may have suited the 19th century factory but fail the 21st century. Leadership built around measurement, clarity and accountability, which produces complicated businesses that are set up to fail - but in a compliant and accountable way. Mired in complicated processes. Bogged down with bureaucracy. Optimised for inefficiency.
The causes of this strange state of affairs in an era of hyper connectivity range from having narcissistic or machiavellian leaders & teams, through to navel gazing, plain group think or the bias towards organisational inertia which is innate within many of us.
There is little we can do scientifically about the former two - the reality is they will always exist. It's in some people's DNA. But scientists have now proven why the latter three happen. And we can rewire them.
They happen because our brains' literally interpret and rewrite all that we actually see before it is processed to fit with our preconceptions and cognitive bias. Our eyes and brains are tuned to see what we want to see. Its called the 'bidirectional hierarchical network model', and from a 'Matrix' view, it means that It is not that the real world doesn't exist, but more that we experience it as a hybrid reality.
So your navel gazing, group thinking and inert leaders see and absorb everything from their cognitive bias of complexity. They can't yet see simplicity - only how to maintain complexity and magnify it. Given a new situation and challenge, they will propose a complicated solution with their old school thinking. Less risk and innovation. More specialists. More silos. More measurement, accountability and clarity.
But we can train them to unsee it.
Here's an example I recently used in a wholly unrandomised control trial at a seminar I was giving.
For the first picture below - 10% of the audience instantly were able to see what it is.
The remaining 90% were lost until I showed them the image below. Then they could see.
Its a Frog.
And at this point - if you couldn't originally see the frog, your brains have been rewired too. Now you won't be able to unsee the frog in the first picture. Ever.
But aside from the rewiring of your brain as readers of this there is a salient point for all those who might be involved in innovation, disruption or digital transformation and genuinely want it to succeed.
You don't just need to communicate the change, or win hearts and minds in the traditional 'change' process sense. You have to rewire the organisational brain so the component parts can't unsee simplicity.
Especially the leaders - if they're not wired into seeing everything differently moving forward, any change will be more like a stumble than a leap forward, and may end up being one stumble forward, three steps backward. A bit like isolated lean reviews of functional service areas - which are the organisational change equivalent of fast weight loss diets: quickly and inevitably followed by gaining more weight than was originally lost.
Leaders and staff need to be rewired to see through a new lens. The lens of smart simplicity which is already innate within successful organisations. Especially the collaboration and co-operation between component parts which sets successful companies apart, and is at the very root of why homosapiens like us have progressed so far so fast. As Yuval Noah Harare outlines in his great book,
'Humans know how to collaborate far more efficiently than chimpanzees. That's why we send people to the moon, and they throw stones at zoo visitors.'
Rewiring The leaders of the future
I’m endlessly happy when the people I occasionally lead or coach get to realise the benefits of simplicity. They get it. They practice it. They lead it. Their teams benefit from it. Their careers benefit from it. They do the right thing not the rule thing.
The slight problem being if the organisation they originally work for doesn’t want it and isn't capable or willing to be rewired.
I was recently reminded of this, when catching up with ‘Alice’ - a young leader who told me that the year she spent working with me was in equal parts the best and worst of her life.
The worst because the organisation she worked for at the time just wasn't ready for it and didn't want simplicity. Preferring to follow the Mad Hatter down the hole and around the maze rather than tell him where to get off. Preferring to perpetuate the hierarchical, controlling & stifling bureaucracy & complexity led by narcissistic machiavillains [sic]
The best, because she & others she worked with can now only see everything through the looking glass as it should be. Even anticipating and circumventing the Mad Hatter's and machiavillains moves.
The better because Alice and three of her compatriots who were all 'rewired' by me have now gone on to become more influential positive disruptors in better organisations who value their skills and abilities to enhance services through the simple focus on user experience and business outcomes.
Life through a creative and simple lens
The looking glass of complexity may be difficult and odd for some, but like Alice and the Lewis Carrol books, approached through the right door and view, the fog of complexity clears, and there is a happy ending for all.
Disrupt, or be disrupted. Rewire or be Irrelevant.