This post is the 3rd in our series of free excerpts to celebrate the launch of Andrew Wallas’s book Business Alchemy, which came out in June. You can buy this book on Amazon here. In the meantime, we’re sure you’ll enjoy reading about the power of simplicity in an organisation. Do you recognise some of these states in your own business – independence, dependence, and interdependence?
At the heart of Business Alchemy is the principle of simplicity. The longer I have been working with businesses and the older that I get, the more convinced I am that every aspect of life is incredibly simple. Each and every business, irrespective of size, is essentially simple. For example, banks take deposits and lend money; supermarkets sell food, while Amazon is in the business of distribution. Equally, human beings, the main driver in a business, are also simple. However, as we know, human beings complicate all aspects of life. One of the over-riding consequences (and possibly a key motivation) of complication is staying stuck. It is like living within a maze; we appear to find a new way forward or a new way out, only to discover that we are back where we started. If we are truly honest with ourselves, much of our lives, including our business life, fall into this category. We spend huge amounts of time and energy rearranging the furniture of our lives without ever really achieving fundamental change. Why is this?
At the core of the scientific community is the principle of simplicity, referred to as Occam’s Razor. This principle, frequently invoked by scientists, states that among competing hypothesis, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected and is attributed to an English Franciscan monk, William of Occam (c.1287-1347.) Occam’s Razor represents the preference for simplicity in the scientific method. Alongside this tenet sits Quine’s conception of Ontological Parsimony. According to the Principle of Ontological Parsimony, a theory that entails the existence of fewer entities or kinds of entity is better than one that entails the existence of more entities or kinds of entity, all other things being equal. This principle enjoys wide spread acceptance in scientific and ordinary empirical reasoning.
Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of the Natural Laws of the Universe states that “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This echoes another natural law, the law of cause and effect. Within the Eastern tradition we have the Law of Karma. Karma is a Sanskrit word which means action, work or deed. This refers to the universal principle of cause and effect underlying the cosmos. As Albert Einstein said “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. We are all familiar with both business men and women, and academic men and women who get off on jargon and complication as a way of convincing themselves that they really are as clever and gifted as they believe.
In a similar way, the perfect illustration of perceived complication in a business environment is the common experience of a business that has a major company or group of companies who is their largest client, producing a substantial percentage of their revenue. The organisation is imbued with fear over the possible loss of this client. Senior executives are preoccupied with the consequences of such a loss; it would erode a substantial amount of the profit and result in expensive redundancies as well as loss of credibility to the image (identity) of the company. The client company is well aware of the power imbalance and daily using it to its advantage.
Whenever I hear a story similar to this, I simply explain to the business that they are colluding with a bully and acting like a slave or hostage. However much they protest with expressions such as “you don’t understand…” or “actually, it’s more complicated than that…..” I reaffirm the simplicity of the reality that the business is disempowering itself. As Eleanor Roosevelt reminded us, “No-one can disempower you without your permission”. The business is, of course, helping to maintain the status quo. This unhealthy dynamic is permeating and effecting every aspect of their business. Once we have identified the essence of this dynamic then the solution is both simple and readily available. The business needs to value itself enough to explain to the largest company that this dynamic is unhealthy for both parties and that unless it is changed, they would rather lose the account. This takes courage and a conviction in one’s own value. Individuals and businesses often do not want to see the simplicity of the scenario or indeed follow its diktats because they are living in fear of the consequences. However, addressing the root cause of the situation always leads to freedom and liberation, and the creation of something new. The alternative to addressing this simple situation is to continue in an unhealthy, demoralising, exhausting environment which can only lead to a slow death.
It’s important to recognise that the business with whom I am working, already knows the simplicity of the situation and the healthy course of action but cannot bring themselves to execute it because there is too much fear, where the perceived risk is too great. The discomfort of the familiar is preferred over the uncertainty of the unknown. As individuals in our daily lives, as well as small and large businesses, there are many scenarios where we are repeatedly reaffirming the perceived complication as a way of maintaining the status quo. It is like existing in a fog but it is familiar. Therefore to our mind and our identity, which operates as a pattern recognition program, it is safe. There is no perceived threat because we know how to manage this situation, however uncomfortable it might get. The potential loss of the largest client or any perceived change is imbued with the energy of threat and is to be avoided at all cost. It is only by dismantling the perceived complication and exposing the simplicity that a new pathway opens up, leading to a healthier, more liberated and profitable future.
To read more from this series go to:
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