This is a cross-post from the HBR Complexity Serieswritten by Steve Denning, and is one of the perspectives relating to the 2013 Drucker Forum Theme (“Managing Complexity”).
Complexity is not a new condition. While it’s true that many aspects of life have become more densely connected and unpredictable, the fact is that our world is inherently complex. Most of the environments we move in and tasks we perform require us to deal with interdependent and dynamic phenomena.
Consider (as economists Andrew Haldane and Vasileios Madouros recently did) the seemingly simple task of catching a Frisbee. It requires the resolution in real-time of two infinitely variable factors: the Frisbee’s trajectory and the catcher’s own movement. So how do people – and even dogs – routinely manage it? Not by gathering waves of data and solving successive equations. Instead, people (and dogs) learn to rely on a simple method that works most of the time: they run in such a way that their angle of gaze to the Frisbee remains roughly constant.
What allows a Frisbee player to dash forth with confidence is, in other words, a heuristic. And heuristics, or rules of thumb, are also what allow people in all kinds of situations – including fast-changing business environments – to forge ahead rather than being paralyzed by complexity. Managers under pressure to make many decisions can’t subject every one of them to thorough and dispassionate analysis. They rely to a large extent on what has worked in the past.
The full blog post can be found at: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/06/making_management_as_simple_as.html