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Six Simple Rules for Overcoming Complexity

Smart Simplicity’s six simple rules aren’t solutions in themselves, but rather a set of strategies that are based on economics, game theory, and organizational sociology. These rules enable organizations to promote new behaviors and improve performance.

The first three rules create the conditions for individual autonomy and empowerment to improve performance.

  1. Understand what your people do. Trace performance back to behaviors and how they influence overall results. Understand the context of goals, resources, and constraints. Determine how an organization’s elements shape goals, resources, and constraints.
  2. Reinforce integrators. Identify integrators—those individuals or units whose influence makes a difference on the work of others—by looking for points of tension, where people are doing the hard work of cooperating. Integrators bring others together and drive processes. They work at the nexus where constraints and requirements often meet. Give integrators the power and interest to foster cooperation for dealing with complexity. Remove managerial layers that don’t add value.
  3. Increase the total quantity of power. When creating new roles in the organization, empower them to make decisions without taking power away from others. Providing a few tools simultaneously is more effective than offering many tools sequentially. Regularly enrich power bases to ensure agility, flexibility, and the ability to adapt.

The second set of rules compels people to confront complexity and use their newfound autonomy to cooperate with others so that overall performance, not just individual performance, is radically improved.

  4. Increase reciprocity. Set clear objectives that stimulate mutual interest to cooperate. Make each person’s success dependent on the success of others. Eliminate monopolies, reduce resources, and create new networks of interaction.
  5. Extend the shadow of the future. Have people experience the consequences that result from their behavior and decisions. Tighten feedback loops. Shorten the duration of projects. Enable people to see how their success is aided by contributing to the success of others.
  6. Reward those who cooperate. Increase the payoff for all when they cooperate in a beneficial way. Establish penalties for those who fail to cooperate.

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