Simplicity Strategies and Killing Complexity: Top Nine Tips

To what extent can we justifiably break the rules? Can doing so help remove unwanted complexity?

Here, we explore breaking with convention in order to get a fresh outlook in the workplace.

Self-organising systems

Self-organising systems are those enabled to grow and evolve with free will. As long as each part of the system remains consistent within itself and the system’s past, these systems can harness the power of creativity, evolution, and free will – all within the boundaries of the organisation’s overall vision and culture. In the 21st century, military combat was revolutionised by allowing localised squad leaders to make adaptive decisions previously preserved for generals. For those of us who think we are generals, if we don’t need to lead…. don’t lead!

Rule bending

Imagine how easy life would be if we were allowed to bend all the rules. Not the really important rules, only the less important rules. Now imagine how excellent it would feel working for a boss who encourages you to bend the rules when needed. Rule bending allows us to sidestep unresolvable issues such as gaining permission at times when speed and simplicity are needed. (NB just ensure you don’t bend the unbreakable rules… laws!)

Rule killing

It’s apparently twice as easy to introduce a rule or policy in organisations than it is to kill one. Take action to cut off and trim down the set of rules required. Encouraging teams to come up with the smallest possible set of rules is helpful too. Take great care when introducing new processes and, if possible, brutally trim down the old ones.

Early collaboration and consultation

The human being is a social animal. We are also, by nature, subconscious respecters of hierarchies. Early, open collaboration and relationship-building in projects, teams or with clients allows for the maximum amount of trust, as early as possible. Building this early trust and an understanding of the bigger picture or other people’s views, allows for more decisive problem- solving later. As with many of these principles, just don’t overdo it!

Just enough organising

Organising is, of course, vitally important. But it’s often overdone. Just enough organising means focusing our energies so that we have the right amount of processes, structure and accountability for the phase we are in, whilst still retaining as much freedom, speed of movement, and flexibility as possible. We have all been in the reverse situation, where too much organising, and too many processes and systems, leave us putting time into frustrating, low value tasks.


The term ‘affordance’ was created by psychologist James J. Gibson. It defines clues the environment offers the user. For example, no one needs an instruction manual for a set of stairs. When we see it, we know what to do. Similarly, with a coffee mug, it’s obvious that the handle is for picking it up. When we are working in organisations, using solid design principles for systems, tools, meeting agendas, spreadsheets, even websites, is vital. If a user looks at it and immediately knows what to do, we can say the design is effective. Equally, if we need a detailed set of explanations, signs and instructions, we can say the design is ineffective.

Creating a culture of clear thinking and challenge

Signalling and reinforcing to teams that it’s good to challenge the norm, test decisions, push back, debate and disagree in the right way and at the right time means that all minds can be active, and we avoid ‘group think’. This enables a wider variety of opinions to be considered and the simplest, most effective way to be selected. Where this does not take place, over time we end up in complex, hierarchical bureaucracies.

Assertive leadership

Building the principle of self-organising systems, we are able to see that assertive leadership is only needed in certain moments and at certain times. And at those moments it’s time to step up. To have courage. To be clear and decisive. Knowing that assertive leadership will happen when required breeds positivity in the followers.

Dealing with the biggest thing

Assertive leadership allows us to deal with the really big issues and to tackle the trickiest, most pernicious problems. Whether that is a legacy system, a difficult boss, or a constantly failing process, rather than avoiding it, we gather ourselves and go to town to fix it. The superhero mentality breeds a virtuous cycle of overcoming obstacles, and a growing belief that it is our job as leaders to tackle the impossible. Working for, or with, a leader who has a growing reputation for tackling the biggest things in a solid and effective way also creates a positive feeling that it’s worth raising issues, because someone at the top can, and will, sort it out.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *