Business leaders. Community leaders. Association leaders. Education leaders. Political leaders. Thought leaders. I find myself in the company of leaders pretty regularly. As a rule, they are smart, driven, and extraordinarily capable women and men. Many of them are increasingly confounded by the complexity they face each day. Who could blame them?
Sam Palmisano, the former chairman of IBM said in a speech at the THINK Forum that Americans are exposed to over 3.6 zettabytes* of data annually. [* a zettabyte is a 1 followed by 21 zeros] Information and images are streaming into our eyes, ears and mind continuously from the time we awake until we fall asleep.
On the PBS Media Shift Blog, author Don Carli cites a Veronis Suhler Stevenson estimate that overall per capita consumption of media in the U.S. has increased by almost 30 percent over the last 35 years, from 2,843 hours per year in 1975 to 3,532 hours in 2009, with about half of those hours are spent on videogames, Internet, and mobile services. Carli also notes that 24% 0f young people between the ages of 12-18 use another media most of the time while watching television. Are Millennials the most distracted generation in ages or maybe just really great multi-taskers?
Social media tools stack up like firewood wrestling for our attention and time. So, is Instagram or Pinterest really the next great social medium? Is it Kindle, Galaxy, Nook or iPad? Is print really dead? Where’s the fastest growing market for your product or service? Is there such a thing as zero competition? What’s your value proposition in this “new normal” economy? A Google search for business success, brings 98 million hits. Kim Kardashian brings 219 million. Seriously. Results and meaningful answers are difficult to find. They do not come easily. Where does that leave you?
Palmisano reminds us that “one of the core responsibilities of leadership is to understand when it’s time to change – the organization and yourself.”
So is a back to basics approach in order? Is making money better than losing money? Is acting while you have options better than not having them? Most of us would answer affirmatively. Still, there are real risks and traps awaiting anyone who chooses to take a bold step. What’s required to overcome the fear and inaction uncertainty breeds so effectively? Here are five reasons complexity is your friend.
1. Nobody else knows what to do either. Complexity and uncertainty isn’t confusing you alone. It’s confusing everybody. Carving out you own path is more essential than ever. There won’t be many milestones in the early stages, but the fact you have a bias for action and are in motion instead of being paralyzed by the unknown will make you stand out.
2. Complexity is nothing new. Sure, the volume of information about growing complexity in our lives, business, society and communities is morphing exponentially. There is a huge amount of confusing and oftentimes conflicting information about our world. Narrowing your field of focus helps you feel more in control and will fuel forward motion. As race car legend Mario Andretti reminds us, “if you think you have everything under control, you’re not driving fast enough.”
3. A New Way To See The World. There’s value in re-interpretation. The modern world we inhabit is more interconnected than ever. Some of that interconnectedness is invisible and is vastly different from what we might imagine. For example, who knew gasoline prices would rise whenever a tropical storm or a hurricane threatens the Gulf of Mexico? We all do now.
4. Crisp Thinking Is Essential. There was a time when social, economic, and political structures were understandable to anyone who took the time to consider them. Not so today. Complexity demands we question our assumptions as leaders and seek new ways of thinking about the challenges and opportunities that confront our organizations and our teams. What does the rise of democracy movements in the Middle East mean to our organizations? Is China’s rising middle-class a threat or an opportunity? What don’t you know that you should? Start thinking, fast.
5. Move From Theory to Execution. It has generally been viewed as useful to have a working theory behind one’s decision-making. While that may still hold true, there is a sense the choices at hand are increasingly complex. The temptation to revert to “heuristics” and default to known solutions and events we deem similar is enormous. The default option is no choice and that is the biggest mistake for leaders. Good leaders hit targets no one else can hit. Great leaders hit targets no one else can even see.