Matrix Management

Deep simplicity in complex companies?

Puzzle PieceIt is 10 years since I wrote my first book Speed Lead – faster, simpler ways to lead people projects and teams in complex companies.

Its themes were around simplifying the way people work and cutting through complexity using some simple, though often countercultural, tools and concepts – such as cutting out a lot of teamwork and communication..

In the last 10 years we’ve trained tens of thousands of people in the techniques I outlined in the book – the highlight have included radical simplification of cooperation and communication that helped many people reduce the number and improve the quality of their meetings and speed up decision-making.

Over the years I received some feedback that the word “simple” was off-putting to some people, they felt that simplicity implied triviality – and leading people is a serious business!

However, the longer I work with complex organizations the more I am convinced that we need to find the deep simplicity that enables them to work more effectively. Leaders don’t remember complex models and detailed case studies. What they need is a simple framework that they can apply in the heat of the moment when an issue arises.
The definition of a memorable idea is one that is remembered – and hopefully used. Complexity is the enemy of this recall.

In addition the business issues that the leaders we meet are dealing with are incredibly complex, the last thing they need are even more complex frameworks to apply to them.

Here are some of the things that notable people said about simplicity in the past:

• “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” attributed to Leonardo da Vinci
• “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler” Einstein
• Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” Confucius
• “Truth is ever to be found in the simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” Isaac Newton

It’s a very impressive list of people, and you’ll find many more similar quotes online.

These individuals saw through the complexity to the underlying simplicity of ideas.

However we often find that there are vested interests in not adopting new and simpler ways of working. Legacy vertical power structures may be reluctant to give up control in a matrix, people want to be involved in decisions for personal reasons despite the fact that they’re not adding value, managers retain control to stay in their comfort zone rather than letting their people take more autonomy.

These issues are difficult to surface and discuss. For example – no one ever sits down in January and sets the development objective of becoming a micromanager! Micromanagement often evolves from an initial individuals desire to stay involved and help their people.

Too much focus on reporting lines and power structures can often obscure the simplicity of just getting what we need to achieve done effectively.

Perhaps this quote from Thomas Sowell is a good place to end this blog, “People who pride themselves on their “complexity” and deride others for being “simplistic” should realize that the truth is often not very complicated. What gets complex is evading the truth.”

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