And why your business needs it more than ever
By Christopher J. Tipler
When trading conditions are di cult, the ability of your management team to respond, dig deeper, and deliver the goods becomes critical. What qualities enable this? Your list would probably include determination, resourcefulness, perhaps imagination. Almost certainly, cleverness.
Cleverness is much admired in western society generally, and in business in particular, and we often see it as the key to success. He, or she, is so clever. at is a clever strategy. If we don’t use this expression, we often use words that mean the same thing – bright, skilful, smart, sharp, on the ball, intelligent. ink about how often these words crop up in the business lexicon, and in your business conversations.
Yet cleverness doesn’t always equate to good outcomes. Enron was full of clever people. So were Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch. ey went wrong with con dence (to use a marvellous expression coined by John Ralston Saul). Nor is cleverness in short supply; it is a common attainment in business. In fact, it is so abundant that it is almost nauseating.
In business, cleverness is often synonymous with analysis and ‘know how’ which can be very dangerous if they are not modi ed by other qualities. We need a solution, our clever people analyse the problem, and we fret over their recommendations, which seem to contain a false certainty. So, we wait and wonder how we will get the right answer. Often, false certainty is a result of inexperience; the required context for the analysis is not present. is is why so many consultants’ reports miss the mark; they are the product of clever but inexperienced minds.
Experience, however, is not the complete answer to the problem of cleverness. I have seen very experienced managers make profound errors of judgement for a variety of reasons. So, what lies around and beyond clever and how do we nd it and use it reliably in our business?
e Irish poet and philosopher, John O’Donohue, saw creativity as the missing ingredient. “Analysis is always subsequent to and parasitic on creativity…When the embrace and depth of creativity are absent, analysis become destruction. It can break things apart but there is nothing now to put them back together again.”
Creativity is one dimension we can add; another is wisdom. It is said that facts are not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding and
understanding is not wisdom. Wisdom is about our capacity to make distinctions
of value or, if you like, to interpret things in a way that works. It is a genuinely scarce commodity in business and its source is not generally understood. Not all clever people are wise; not all knowledgeable and experienced people are wise; and not
all creative people are wise.
If wisdom is elusive, can we talk about this discriminating faculty in other ways; ways that enable us to come to grips with it? An American colleague of mine may
have the answer. He says that what lies beyond clever is brilliant; what lies beyond brilliant is genius; and what lies beyond genius is…simplicity.
Simplicity is synonymous with e ortlessness or easiness, and with straightforwardness. It is this quality which, over many years of advice, I have come to associate most closely with success in business. It is the quality that brings clarity to strategy, believability to proposals, and workability to processes. It has the e ect of creating energy in the management team rather than depleting it.
Simplicity accommodates cleverness but requires it to be disciplined. It provides a natural home for creativity because it is not anxious. Simplicity is not the same thing as wisdom but represents a tangible and actionable proxy for it.
So, how do we bring simplicity to our business? Well, the rst thing we do is talk about it at the team level. en we assess where we are on the simplicity scale and start the ongoing process of making it a living principle. Your simplicity score can be worked out by considering the following:
- Is our strategy completely clear, easily understood by people at all levels, and easily translated intoaction?
- Are accountabilities clear across the business, at the personal, work group, and business unit levels?
- Are our customer communications elegant and e ective?
- Are our core business processes uncomplicated and easy to work with, and do they dovetail with eachother seamlessly?
- Do our management reports make it easy to focus on the operating levers?
- Are our meeting agendas short and to the point?
- Do we communicate with each other in plain, no-nonsense terms, or is our language sprinkled withjargon?
- Do we make decisions easily?I am sure you can think of other tests for the presence of simplicity, but the above list is a good start. If you want to survive and succeed in the testing times ahead, make simplicity something that you recognise and cultivate in everything you do. When simplicity is informing all the activities of the business you will sleep well at night, and that is a very good thing!Christopher Tipler is a Melbourne-based management advisor and author of Corpus RIOS – e how and what of business strategy. His web site corpusrios.com contains more material on this and related topics.