From Simplicity to Complexity

Mark Bennett, Product Strategy Director for Oracle Fusion Network at Work and Profile Management, wrote a post over at Talented Apps entitled, “Leadership and Complexity.” In this piece he writes that “one of the main jobs of a leader is to take complexity and distill it down to something [simpler] that is actionable by others.” I agree with this understanding and Bennett makes a great point. However, I’d like to offer an alternate perspective with regard to simplicity and complexity and extend these concepts a little further in reference to leadership.

Leaders (and especially entrepreneurs) take in simplicity and transform it into complexity. This complexity can then be turned into profit or other value in their business.

An entrepreneur, a budding business leader, is starting a business, even in a recovering economy, because they realize that there is something which can make a profit and interest or help others. Their notion is simple in nature, as are many early stages of a business. Proof? Consider the infamous convention of the elevator pitch.

It is in the development and delivery of this product or service where complexity arises, but not in a way just “distill[ed] … down to something … actionable by others.” Rather, this complexity develops and persists as something to be manipulated by a leader along with his or her team.

Consider Amazon as an example of simplicity-turned-complexity. Jeff Bezos started the company as an online bookstore. It now sells far more than just books. It offers a variety of material to be purchased in digital format, from ebooks to mp3s. It produces its own tablet device. It even offers fantastic infrastructure to other tech entrepreneurs and businesses with its Amazon Web Services. This once-just-an-online-bookstore is now featuring such services as Amazon S3, an online storage web service and Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud which allows users to essentially rent virtual systems to run their own apps.

It’s through simplicity and into complexity that Bezos and many other entrepreneurs and business leaders have worked with their teams. Bennett’s illustration of management makes sense. Yet Bezos and others don’t just arrive at their complex models by constantly breaking down and providing simplicities for their team. Through a participatory form of leadership and teamwork additional value can be discovered in certain complexity.

Mathew Simonton