Mutterings of a consultant

October 1, 2008

Complexity

Filed under: General rambling — grantfrear @ 5:29 am
Tags: , ,

I have always found it interesting how corporate vision statements become like wallpaper.  They are always present and visible but fade into the background.  This is certainly the case with the vision statement for my team, it is there, it is meaningful and largely it is ignored. 

I, more than some others in my team, have to pay a little more attention to the vision.  Not only am I a leader in my team but from time to time I am required to present our vision.  At these times I go back to the vision and marvel at the clever collection of words, full of meaning and promise.  On a recent trip back I spent some time thinking about meaning, in particular focusing on one key word in the vision statement, complex.

In the case of our vision statement complexity is postitioned in terms of the problems we are trying to solve.  I had never really thought deeply about what distinguishes a complex problem from other problems.  When I did put aside some time to do so I was a little embarassed that I had difficulty getting to the nub of what a complex problem might be.  It could simply be the opposite of a simple problem however I thought there must be more to it than this.  After a bit of reading I found a description of complexity that helped me make sense of the vision statement.

Complex problems are distinguished by the inter-relationships and dependencies between aspects of the problem, the amount of unknowns and that the problem cannot simply be broken into smaller parts to solve.  Taking the decomposition approach will not work for complex problem due to the inter-relationships, the parts are all moving and are all connected to each other in some way. 

By contrast complicated problems also have many inter-dependent parts but the relationship between these parts is more static.  One can solve a complicated problem by breaking it down into smaller parts as each one acts independently and interacts with other parts in a predictable manner.

So there is was, a description of complexity that seemed to make sense in a consulting environment.  As with most things in life my new found clarity simply allowed me to see another problem/issue.  If we are solving complex problems why is it we apply the ‘divide and conquer’ model so often?  Clearly I will have to spend some more time thinking about that one.

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