The Competitive Advantage of Embracing Complexity

People today want simplicity.  As our book, “Mastering the Cube” points out, we humans swim in a vast sea of clutter, constantly hit with complicated or jarring messages.  This continuous bombardment seems overwhelming, even as our sensory systems work to filter it to make sense of our surroundings. 

Consumers often cope with this complexity by simply ignoring many of the multifarious messages. As noted in a Harvard Business Review article about consumer behavior, “Brand loyalty…is vanishing. …the rising volume of marketing messages is not empowering — it’s overwhelming. Rather than pulling customers into the fold, many marketers are pushing them away with relentless and ill-conceived efforts to engage.”  Increasingly, customers are saying, “Make my life simpler, but give me elegantly integrated products and customized solutions.”

Can the delivery of your products or services become as simple as buying a tennis ball?

Wilson, a leading manufacturer of sporting goods, claims that tennis balls are among the most complex of their products.  A tennis ball requires 24 separate steps, which include creating a rubber and clay-based core that is crushed, cut and compressed, molded into a shell, and then eventually buffed and felted.  This complex process creates a product that may be among the tens of thousands used for an international tennis tournament or may simply become a throw toy for a family dog.  Wilson has absorbed the complexity to make the perfect, timeless tennis ball.  As consumers, we are simply glad that buying a sleeve of tennis balls (for any purpose) does not require a vast amount of effort and research.   

For a business team to work intuitively and be willing to tackle the complexities of simplifying life for your customers, all must be convinced of the long-term advantages of continuous design and improvement.  Making these changes requires convincing leadership action. 

The ultimate success of the organization lies in finding its optimal competitive position.  As I have seen with many clients, strategies are being adapted for new marketplace realities, but the organizational capabilities needed to achieve the strategies tend to lag.  Ultimately, organizations must be well aligned and have capabilities in place to absorb certain complexities and simplify life for their customers.  The ability to deliver differentiated offerings and to give customers what they need – before they know what they need – starts with a strategic opportunity and effective alignment leaders.

What would Einstein suggest?

Albert Einstein, known as a brilliant theoretical physicist, was also a philosopher, and many of his observations are particularly applicable to the business world.  He said, “Life is like riding a bicycle.  To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” We can use Einstein’s philosophies to frame ways of thinking about how to prime your organization to absorb complexities and create competitive advantage:

  • Clarity: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Each member of the leadership team must have a clear sense of how to simplify life for your customers.  Reduce your ideas to their very essence to find your own “genius,” and then determine how to use this genius to remove complexities from your customer’s decision-making processes.
  • Choice:We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Ask your leadership team thought-provoking questions and don’t allow them to take outcomes for granted.  Find ways to build breakthrough thinking via mindset shifts and creating the right framework for a leadership environment that is creative and dynamic, not stagnant.  Don’t assume there is only one “correct” answer to a question.
  • Commitment: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Strategic change cannot be accomplished by reshuffling a few boxes on an organizational chart or adding in some new processes.  Alignment Leaders® must be willing and able to commit and follow through on a course of action, not just participate at the beginning of the strategy or change.  Rather than giving up at the first sign of trouble, everyone on the team must know exactly why it is important for them to show up and engage.  Make sure that you look a little longer, harder, and deeper at whatever business challenges you face. 
  • Challenge: “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” Alignment Leaders should continually challenge the leadership team to improve, striving for the next level. Know the organization’s potential and don’t hesitate to make a bold call to action.  An organization is more likely to enhance its offerings when inspired by Alignment Leaders with passion for their work.

The Power of Complexity

Don’t be afraid of complexity, own it – even knowing that your team – just like your customers – might crave simplicity.  Alignment Leaders can help the team to shift from a product focus to a solution package, even if doing so will initially create more complexity for your organization.  Constantly seeking new, value-added solutions will ultimately improve the company’s position and enhance market strength.

Improving your competitive advantage stems from making necessary changes that keep you ahead of your competition and ensuring that your organization can absorb complexity. Remember, few customers care about the components or complexities of a tennis ball – they simply want it to be easy to obtain, hold together under stress, and have a nice bounce.