In the following I am going to list three exemplary topics: planning, organisational structures and division of work in order to give a vivid impression of how the proposed education in form of a course could look like.
I hope to get at least some reactions - therefore I tried to “Be colourful”.
why I think that complexity-handling is an important part missing in management education, let's start with a little
Do you know what complexity means? Before you read on, write it down in not more than one or two simple sentences!
If that was easy and you have understood most of the implications it has on management-life, don't read on, but publish it on the MIX! Otherwise here is my
Complexity is a feature of a subject-matter which basicly says that slightest changes to itself or its state may yield to drastic changes in its future.
Moreover, in general the subject-matter's long-term behaviour or development cannot be predicted more accurately, simply by increasing the amount or the accuracy of data about the subject-matter, or by a more detailed analysis of the subject-matter's inner composition and interdependencies.
This was easy, wasn't it? You didn't gibber something like complicated, difficult, hard, or...
Well, this is my proposal, which is somewhat close to what physicians and mathematicians misleadingly once called “chaotic”. I hope for your further reading that you accept this as our given definition. If you have a better one, please let me know. If you understand this, accept its implications, derive handling-directives, learn to act accordingly and you start to dive into the courses, I want to invent! And complexity becomes clear and easy!
Why bother? Why is it of importance besides the complaints that everything is getting more and more complex? Because, truly as a manager in a modern world you are confronted with a lot of complex things. And if you handle complexity accordingly to its nature you save... you save so much time, nerves, energy, resources... Moreover you can avoid creating unnecessary work out of complexity. To make this and the course clearer, let's go through some
Now let us start with “planning” as an example for an complex management task. What can we derive from our definition on the task of planning?
If something is unpredictable in the long run, does it make sense to create long term plans? No! Accept complexity! No 5-year plans (socialism lost the cold war). The effort to make a strict detailed plan, saying what to do in detail and and how to spend time for the next twelve month on a complex task is fruitless. At least, if you handle a truly complex task! Accept the uncertainty, manage it!
The new course could show managers alternative planing methods, like my first approach on project-plans:
I tend to use three scales, so let's call it “three-scalar-planning” (sounds like an advertisement):
scale one: short-term (days, weeks maybe months)
exact, direct tasks
scale two: mid-scale (up to half a year)
rough milestones, key deliverables
scale three: long-term (year(s))
only target description, maybe scenarios and rough effort estimations
Scales may change with your business and the given task, of course and this is just a humble step for time plans to what might be a possible planning method for complex tasks.
Maybe, most certainly you have acted like that quite often in your life - only now, you might get the link to complexity.
Don't try to make exact long termplans (a business-plan is a plan too!) on complex things! Just don't! Accept complexity! That saves a lot time, energy, nerves... In the course of time, a traditional plan will decive you anyway. If someone offers you such a traditional plan, he either doesn't know better or he wants to trick you - maybe both, so don't pay.
A common management task is to define the structures of the organisation. We find a tendency to less hierarchical structures in modern firms. Let me point out the link to complexity:
A typical mechanism that generates unnecessary work emerges when a complex problem meets a hierarchically organized firm. Because complexity implies that small decisions can have big impacts on the whole and hierarchy implies that decision making is done on higher levels. So if the organisation is A) deep hierarchically organized and B) aware that small things may have great impact, than C) small things become important and because of A) important things go u...ps, go up the ladder.
Now a lot of small things go up the ladder and everything - especially changes - becomes so slow... ever come across? If you need one more argument to adhere to the great principle of subsidiarity, here we go: handling complexity! Keep decision-making low, where the know-how is! Especially if you deal with complex tasks. If the estimated impacts are dramatic, give experts short pass excess to management ranks for backup and counsel. Flat organisations tend to do so - but other organisational designs may either.
So we need to learn and teach to differentiate between structures for complex tasks and for simple tasks.
Division of work
To get to the point, let's see how a management can mess up work by using complexity.
How can we make a complex task a tough job? If we go back to our definition, it's easy. Remeber that little changes can have great impact. As an idea, let's break up the task into little subtasks. Then scatter them about different persons and build up strict and indirect communication routes. Et voilà!
Why is this an efficient work-generator? Simple: Small changes done on a lot of small parts must be coordinated, because of their potentially great effects (complexity). Now, because the subtask-working men don't talk directly (strict-communication routes), they have to explain a lot of deep insights to coordinating people who have no deep insight in the subtask but want to know and understand. Misunderstandings, communication everywhere. Everybody is talking - but nobody seems to know anything for sure.
Sounds somewhat familiar? Hope not. But if so, you at least have an idea about the root cause: Inadequate slicing of complex tasks.
To provide an image: It's like scissoring a sudoku in its sub squares and handing it out to different people to get the job done efficiently.
One could find the effect funny, if it wasn't such a waste of time, nerves, resources... I wonder if this is one of the basic factors, why small firms in certain situations outperform big ones ten times and more.
So we should teach managers to organize work on complex tasks with respect to the nature of complexity.
There is a lot more one could teach in the the proposed course but I hope the subject became clear.
The knowledge is there
To me it seems, that most of the knowledge is already there, only spread. For instance scenario technique, system thinking or agile methods. And some of the stories in the MIX are teaching lessons. We only have to gather the knowledge and go for a
Create a course that teaches the basics of complexity and its impact on work, thats provides a set of tools and management practices to handle it properly. Then make it part of ordinary management training.
I hope to improve the idea and extend the outline of the course with contributions from other MIXers.
Find a promoter inside the educational system
It will be vital to find a sponsor within an institution of management education to bring the idea to life.