From complex to profoundly simply – not for dummies

I was chatting with a colleague today about one of my major frustrations with my consultant colleagues. Consultants seem to have a desire to make things that are complex somehow magically simple, or I would say simplistic.  But there is an important difference between ‘dumbing something down’ and pushing through complexity to a point where you can see a profoundly simple solution. A profoundly simple understanding of a complex situation is one where the hard work of comprehending the complexity has been accomplished, and as a result the solution appears.

Here’s the problem. That type of work generally requires a joint effort – it is true knowledge work, because it takes different perspectives, approaches, and thought processes to tackle a truly complex situation. It is rare that a single individual can go off and construct a profoundly simple solution to a complex problem, but individuals can reduce a complex situation to a simplistic set of tasks or steps that lead to a simple solution.  Effectively solving complex problems through collaboration that results in a profoundly simple solution that everyone can execute against is a LOT of work, and it tends to be messy work – not linear, hard to anticipate and structure, and highly iterative as the team works through the complexity.It happens in moments, in flashes, and in intense work marathons. It is unpredictable.  Consultants have a disturbing need box everything into deliverable timeframes, where their people are billable 40 hours a week for a defined period of time.  That’s inconvienent for the reality of highly strategic work.

Just think about what happens when you do it right – you can end up with a well aligned team that understands their reality, not some simplistic version of it, and is able to navigate it correctly. That’s pretty cool.


Hyper Local – the New Normal?

In the United States, we have converted from being an economy driven by manufacturing to being a services economy.  Many of the norms developed in the 70s and 80s and implemented in the 90s around business process are dated in today’s service driven world.

We are seeing a gradual shift to what I call a “hyper-local” services economy – a combination of a return to the local market with the power of reach provided by the internet. How this materializes is specific to industries, markets, and individuals.

Take, for example, this recent article in the Denver news about a young couple who bought a local pharmacy. They are in some ways a throw-back to the pharmacist who knew everyone and what was going on in the local lifeblood, but they are uniquely Millenials, positioning to provide hyper-local service in an increasingly bland market, carving a niche for themselves as being more than corporate grey.

I think we will see more and more of this as the “hyper local” services economy finds its footing into today’s market.  And in that term, I don’t mean “local” to be purely geographic. It can be virtual, but it is about an intimate connection with the customer that doesn’t come through personas (yawn) or demographic modeling – it comes from having local, personal connections that only real human beings can materialize. What do you think?

“Older generations…” Hey GenX, that’s You!

Don’t worry, I’m a GenXer too.  I caught a New York Times article today entitled Embracing the Millenials by Tom Agan, where he made the age old claim that “Older generations of workers are sometimes annoyed and perplexed by millennials, many of whom want to take on big projects and responsibilities right off the bat, whereas earlier generations expected to pay their dues first.”  Really, with that sentence, you could replace “perplexed by…..” any generation and you’d have it right. GenXers were entitled, not willing to work hard, expected fast promotions, and to ‘have their cake and eat it too’ by making their own rules about work. Sound familiar?Believe it or not, Baby Boomers were somewhat sneezed at by the “Silent Generation” and the “Greatest Generation” when they came into the workforce too. This is a historic complaint by older generations leveled against younger ones.

Mr. Agan did follow that up with something that is unique to the Millenials: “Millennials are also accustomed to living in a world of vast transparency — tweeting, texting and emailing one another in a nonstop exchange of information and opinions.”  This commitment to transparency is what very well may change the fabric of work as we know it. As he deftly points out, when information can be controlled people can be controlled, and that has been a defining characteristic of managerial principles since the industrial age in America. The Millianals are poised to shatter that paradigm, and new management constructs will have to emerge that can exist effectively within an ever more transparent world.

Sure there will be those who resist, who remain committed to old models of control, who seek to fight the tide. But they will eventually be washed over, it is a question of when, not if.  So what happens then? I see a whole new form of organizational structure emerging, one in which information flows more fluidly throughout the ecosystem, and where checks and double checks happen real time about what “management” is saying. It is the fearless who will win in this construct – those who are willing to speak plainly and truthfully rather than obfuscating in ‘consultant-speak’ or ‘management-speak’.

I, of course, am a GenX offender in that regard – blame my almost 25 years in consulting for that. My only mea culpa is that I recognize it and have some levity towards it as a result. I love where the Millenials are taking us, and where the Millenial mindset, adopted by anyone at any age, can lead.  Give it a try and see what happens.


Would you walk away from $1M ?

We often feel like we are stuck in our jobs because we have bills to pay, obligations, or because our identity is so connected to working that we can’t conceive of doing anything else.  Maybe we even look with some envy at professional athletes, who seem to make a lot of money doing something that to us looks a lot like playing. We sort of get that there are hours of practice, travel, time away from family, and so forth, but for what they do, it seems like a lot, doesn’t it?

Last week, a Denver Broncos’ player, John Moffit, walked away during the bye week. He’ll leave behind about $1 million on his contract for this season and next.  His explanation, “I just want to be happy. And I find that people that have the least in life are sometimes the happiest. And I don’t have the least in life. I have enough in life. And I won’t sacrifice my health for that.”  Later he says “I’m ready to go to work and start doing other things right now,” and comments that he feels like he’s off to a great start in life.

He’s not a millionaire, but he does have a little cushion to help him figure out what to do next in life, which is nice to know. It makes me wonder, what would happen if all the people in business who are just at a point where they aren’t happy anymore were willing to say ‘I have enough to figure out something else to do’, and pivot into something else. There are all sorts of ways to rationalize not doing that, and to think that Moffit somehow has it easier, but I’d suggest that for someone who has done one thing his whole life, turned it into a profession, had a lot of money available to keep doing it, and who is able to walk away on his own terms – that’s pretty impressive.  Would you be able to do that?

If it doesn’t make you wonder, maybe it isn’t news….

I was recently on an airplane next to a lovely older gentleman from Conneticut. It was election night, and he was using the in-flight wifi to track election results. Despite my headphones, he kept me posted with regular nudges and pointing to things on his screen, which was locked on  Finally I succumbed and removed my headphones to respond to something he said. With just a few short questions, I quickly established that his only source of news is a Fox-like-something.  Fox News on cable,, the Wall Street Journal. Nothing else.

He claimed that only Fox is ‘unbiased and doesn’t have the liberal agenda.’ I asked how Fox could be unbiased if it didn’t somehow represent the liberal agenda. He didn’t have an answer. I asked if he was surprised when Obama handily beat Romney in the last presidential election.  Shocked, he said, shocked and dismayed. I observed that the only people on the face of the planet who were shocked by the election results were people who lived in the Fox bubble, and asked if that didn’t concern him, even a little tiny bit. No, he said, shaking his head sadly, and then he suggested that I must be not very well informed, probably one of those left wing nut-jobs and possibly anti-American for suggesting such a thing.  He was no longer particuarly lovely in my mind and I put my headphones back on, leaving him to his election monitoring.

Here’s the thing. For me it wasn’t an observation about fox or politics, it was an observation about the power of media and its influence to spin a story anyway it likes. If you only get your news from one source, you are hearing and believing only one version of what happens in the world – one narrative, one storyline. And I would suggest that if the story is always something that makes you nod your head, never anything that makes you question the source, maybe that isn’t a good thing. Surrounding yourself with the news equivilent of ‘yes-men’ might not be the best way to understand the world. If you seriously never listen to alternative narratives with a ‘seek first to understand’ mindset (instead of a ‘seek first to destroy’ mindset), you probably aren’t very well informed about the world, although you may be very well informed about why you are right and everyone else is an uninformed nut-job.

I happen to read Fox News on a reasonably regular basis.  I also read the New York Times, Huffington Post, The Atlantic, Fast Company, Wired, The Economist, and when I’m in the mood I curl up with People magazine and get caught up on what really matters. I don’t read any of them reguarly – I like to mix it up a bit. Fox isn’t good or bad, but it is a single view point. If you limit your world view to one narrow perspective, you miss out on all these incredibly rich, amazing, and interesting things.  And,  you very likely will be one of only a very small handful of people who gets honestly surprised by an election result.

The same holds true in business. If you only listen to one voice, or one agenda, if you don’t have someone around who makes you wonder sometimes about things, you might be so isolated you don’t even realize the opportunities that are passing you by.  You aren’t fighting the right fights, you aren’t winning the right wars.  Seek out the people who are different from you, who have different ideas, who sound a little crazy, and maybe you won’t end up being shocked by something the rest of the world knew was happening.

Bring on the hurt – big change isn’t meant to be easy

Is your organization priming itself for a signficant change?  Is there a consultant whispering in your ear that they can make it easy, painless, sure to succeed? Be honest, are you the consultant whispering that? Are you the client who is buying that? Or are you the client who is saying “we need transformational change, but I don’t want anyone to know about it because it would be too disruptive?”

Have you ever gone through a truly transformational change that hasn’t hurt a little bit, caused some disruption personally or professionally?  Even the best changes take some struggle, some soul searching, and some hard work, together with some distraction from the work right in front of you. It is OK if your clients know it, if your employees know it, and if your shareholders know it – be proud of undertaking something bold and hard.

What isn’t OK is if it isn’t clear why and how you are doing it. Set the expectation that it will be hard but that you are committed to seeing it through, and start telling your new narrative every change you get. Anchor on and reinforce the future until it becomes the current reality.  When it gets hard, realize that you are making progress, and if it never gets hard realize that perhaps everyone else is just politely listening to you but not really changing how they work.

What will you say when you are 86? Joy Johnson – her name says it all.

This week, the New York City Marathon was run, and Joy Johnson died. Why are those two things connected?  At 86, Joy Johnson completed her 25th consecutive New York City Marathon.  She fell at Mile 20 and struck her head.  The next day, she laid down for a nap and didn’t wake up. You can read the story in any number of news outlets. I bring it to your attention because it is a remarkable story about a remarkable woman who lived her life fully and never stopped moving.

There are a lot of people in their 50s, 40s, in their 20s, even in their teens who have already stopped moving.  Don’t be one of those people. Remember Joy, running an 8 hour marathon at 86 and going out on her own terms.  Live a life full of joy, full of energy, passion, and desire to be out there in the world. Whatever age you are, be inspired by someone who never stopped running.

Joy Johnson images are via Facebook


In 2020 Millenials will start turning 40 – GenX, are you ready?

It is hard to believe, but it is coming!  Many companies are working on their 2020 visions and goals, but I’ve noticed that it is a lot of late Baby Boomers and solid Gen Xers making the plans. And yet, in 2020, Millenials will start turning 40 – just at the age when they will be coming into their own in their careers, with significant influence on how those plans go forward. As well, they will be the biggest consumers of the products and services that come out of the plans you are making now.  Are you ready for Millenials to turn 40?  Are you working with intention in your planning to make sure your company is ready?

Millenials are different in some important ways.  Over 30% of them don’t choose to get a driver’s license when they come of age. Many of them would prefer a smaller house than their parents. They are spending their time and money on different types of products and services, and have a different modality for integrating work and life. In America, they are the first generation to enter a workplace that is dominated by services, not product or manufacturing. Check out this article from the NYTimes about one father’s experience with understanding how to measure the success of his Millenial son.

What strategies are you putting in place for employees and customers to attract and maintain this up and coming generation’s affiliation to your brand?