Reading ‘Reinventing organizations’, I stumbled upon a remark by Jean-François Zobrist (FAVI) between the difference between Complicated systems and Complex systems.
Although the difference is quite straightforward when you think about it, we often tend to mix them up with a huge impact on business.
Let me use the metaphor used by Zobrist to explain the difference:
An airplane is a complicated system. There are millions of parts that need to work together seamlessly. But everything can be mapped out: if you change one part, you should be able to predict all the consequences.
A bowl of spaghetti is a complex system. Even though it has just a few dozen “parts”, it is virtually impossible to predict what will happen when you pull at the end of a strand of spaghetti that sticks out of the bowl.
Now what is the impact on business you say?
A lot of businesses are organized to cope with complicated systems. When we talk about complicated systems, we talk about ‘predict & control’. Organizations that are build to predict the future, to create an upfront strategy, to allocate budgets based on this strategy & to follow up KPI’s and the budget by committees and controllers on the road to the predefined goal.
Nothing wrong with that if you are indeed working in a complicated system.
Everything changes when you are operating in a complex system, with lot’s of uncertainty in the ecosphere and within your company. Predict & control proves to be a really bad way of acting in these systems. Evidence points towards a more ‘sense & respond’ way of working in these systems.
Which system do you think your business is really in? And how is your business adapted to it??