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Complexity in Complication

Complications in Strategy

April 26, 2022

When you open the application associated with the iWatch and go to customize the face, there are a series of options called “complications.” This can include additional information ranging from things such as the weather to your initials as a monogram on the watch face itself. Are these really complications though? Or should we think of them as clarifications or enhancements?’

By definition, complications are things that add complexity. But complications and complexity are two different things. If you think of the linear nature of some problems as a straight line, then let’s assume that most complex systems are linear. By contrast, complications are the gravitational “pull” that causes the line to shift in trajectory or become non-linear.

Addressing Complications Through Strategy

Complex systems acknowledge that there are many variables that should be considered, but that there is a “frame” that exists as a series of constants or dependable characteristics. Complications exist that alter those factors in any number of ways. Strategy can address these complications, if there exists an environment to address them, rather than accentuate or amplify a resistance to them.

It's like a recipe. The procurement of ingredients assumes that your local grocery store has what you need. The recipe itself has complexity in the sense that it must have the established variables included in order to achieve the end result. But — and this is the important consideration — what if they only have eight of the 10 ingredients needed? Do you give up? Or do you take this “complication” and convert it into an opportunity for innovation?

Complexity is a characteristic of the root system. Complications are the variables that exert pressure or turbulence on this root system. Resilience and adaptability are the desired characteristics of the strategy. So, how do you build your system to respond appropriately from this kit of parts?

Let’s use the recipe as an example. If you found the eight ingredients, with a certain amount of knowledge, data and skill, you would likely be able to find solutions to address the complications in the system and meet the needs of those absences. Your strategy to identify these solutions would allow you to adapt — in most instances — and address the complications in the already complex system. You will be addressing the gravitational forces that are being exerted to change the linear nature of the problem that you originally set out to find a solution for.

No matter if it is a watch face or ingredients in a recipe, the methodology is similar — being able to differentiate between a complex system and complications that may impact it are equally useful. Keeping your strategy on a linear path, while being able to identify and address external complications that may potentially (and adversely) change the recipe the strategy will be converted to, is an advantage if you are able to adapt these variables into a solution — one that is more dynamic and innovative because it incorporates considerations of these new and unanticipated modifications or adaptations.

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Joe Benesh

Joe Benesh is the President and CEO of The Ingenuity Company, located in Des Moines. The Ingenuity Company specializes in Strategic Planning, Diagramming, Organizational Design Thinking, and Leadership/Change Facilitation. He also teaches strategic planning at the University of Iowa in the MBA Program.