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16 July 2015

RM:OM:Chapter4: Dancing through complexity.

This post is chapter 4 of the book 'The Opposable Mind' written by Roger Martin. You can read the high level review of the book in  THIS POST. Please read it before you read this post.

Read Chapter 1, Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 of the book. 

The full title of this chapter is 'Dancing through complexity: Shaping resolution by resisting simplification'.

Simplification and specialization are the enemies of integrative thinking. Human beings have a tendency to move towards simplification and specialization. Simplification is based on 80-20 principle where 20% of effort van produce 8% or result. Organizations decide that spending 80% of effort to get additional 20% is not worth it.

While simplification can be comforting, it impairs every step of integrative thinking process. It encourages us to edit out salient features rather than consider the question of salience more broadly. A simplification makes us favour linear, unidirectional, causal relationships even if reality is more complex and multi-directional. It also encourages us to construct a limited model of the problem before us.

Specialization is another variant of simplification. It forces us to focus in significant detail on a very small aspect of the broader picture. Specialization is inimical to integrative thinking because it undermines productive architecture. It encourages the sequential or parallel resolution discrete parts of a business problem

Integrative thinkers avoid both simplification and specialization.

I loved the example of how Tim Brown of IDEO helped AMTRAK design their offerings. AMTRAK wanted to compete with airlines. AMTRAK asked IDEO to design the interiors. Brown felt that AMTRAK, by focusing on interiors, was missing the bigger picture. Brown felt that AMTRAK should focus on the entire AMTRAK experience.

Brown and his team analyzed an entire train trip and found that it involved 10 distinct steps. They were, Learning, Planning, Starting, Entering, Ticketing, Waiting, Boarding, Riding, Arriving and Continuing. The interiors of the train was relevant to only one step of the train journey, vis, riding. 

Instead of just simplifying and designing the interiors, Brown and team at IDEO waded into the complexity and designed an integrated solution.

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