Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Finding virtue in simplicity when complexity becomes problematical, and vice versa 1

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on February 23, 2017

Finding and cultivating simplicity, or at least the right simplicity is one of my ongoing themes in this blog. And that holds true even if I do not necessarily address it as such, the way I do working with startups, or when discussing leadership or innovation – to cite three other areas of concern that recurringly repeat in my posting and series titles. Nevertheless, this is at least as important a point of discussion and of both business and marketplace consideration as is any other topic that appears in my writings here. So, for example, a theme of simplicity appears in all of my discussions of lean and agile, or resilient and adaptable businesses and business practices. And that comprises just one generally stated context where I discuss and pursue simplicity as a goal.

At the same time, I repeatedly dive into the details in this blog and into the complexities that that can entail. And in that I could cite essentially any of my posting series in this blog, and certainly my longer ones as working examples of how I pursue the richness of details that arise in business and marketplace contexts.

Complexity and detail and simplicity and the leanly selective, simplicity and the leanly selective and complexity and detail: I offer this posting as the first installment of a brief thought piece on this dichotomy and on how I seek to reconcile what in extreme forms might seem to be diametrically opposed visions of understanding and action, and certainly in the business and marketplace contexts that I address here.

Where does this dichotomy of approaches and understandings become important? To keep this discussion simple and focused (while considering at least some of the details), I would cite three basic working areas here, in addressing that question:

• Communications, and selecting and using the right communications channels – electronic and online, and face-to-face, to meet specific needs and purposes.
• Planning, and setting goals and priorities, and determining how much next and future-step detail to include in that in the here-and-now.
• And analyzing results achieved, so as to reach mutually agreed to buy-in of them that is based upon mutual understanding, and both for what has happened and for what should be done next.

And I (perhaps simplistically) begin addressing all three of those points by offering a couple of shared requirements that would go into carrying out all of them:

• Offering the right levels and selection of details to the right audiences and expecting that level from them in return,
• And offering the types and levels of detail that would at least minimally address the prospects of volatility and change, and facilitating the sharing back of that level in return.

Let’s start with communications there, and with the channels of communications that are by now essentially all ubiquitously available. And focusing here on electronic and online channels as starting points, let’s consider three very well known and understood examples: Twitter and similar short message service channels, email, and online discussion groups.

• Twitter and its short message alternatives are limited for the most part to 140 characters and spaces, so they work for very brief notes and messages. And while they can be focused and limited in who they are sent to and visible to, this basic tool set is also very good for wider broadcasting and sharing too. But for purposes of this posting, the key word here is short, or brief, or even terse. Twitter does not work well at all, for sharing details or complexities of any sort.
• Email can be used to convey short messages and some users in fact put their entire messages in the subject line, at least when using this tool for that purpose. But email also supports messages of essentially open-ended length too – and even without including attachments. It is easy to send to individuals and to more restricted distribution lists and with just standard email software, and it is also possible to distribute the same emails (e.g. email newsletters) to wider audiences. But special apps are often resorted to for feeding large numbers of recipient email addresses from database systems to email systems for bulk distribution. And doing so increasingly creates risk of your being blocked by recipient email software as a likely spammer, and certainly if you are sending out of the organization as well as within it.
• And online discussion groups can support short or longer messages. But they are rarely used to sending out very long ones. They can involve large participant lists, and both for posting and reading or viewing posts. But they tend to be build and managed with a goal of sharing messages related to specific topic areas. And I add it is as easy to build these channels into a business’ in-house intranet as it is to set up an externally connecting discussion group.
• And obviously, it is possible to use these three channels in combination with each other and in combination with other channels (e.g. face-to-face meetings.) It is, for example, quite possible to send out heads-up tweets to tell a wider audience that a particularly useful or important post or discussion thread of them has just started appearing on a company or business team discussion board. And people have been emailing documents to expected meeting attendees for a great many years now, in anticipation of those meetings so people going, can do so prepared.

That said, it drives most of us a bit crazy when we keep getting CC’d on seemingly every email that we really do not have to or want to see, coming out of what can seem to be our entire work area. It is just as bad when we get emails that we would need and want – at least in principle, but where they do not seem to get to the point or focus on the important details – important to us, the recipients. It is just as bad when we know that we need some specific background and detail but we only get cryptically brief and terse notes that indicate that something needs our attention.

Think through the messages that you receive and what does and does not work for you and bring value and understanding to you, in them. Now think about your own messages and where and how you send them and to whom. The details that are most important to you, and from your work perspective might not be necessary to everyone else who would need to be involved in a task or project under discussion. And that is why both full reports and “executive summaries” are important – and I put executive summaries in quotes there because it is not just executives who can find a briefer and more selective version more useful than the long version. People can always ask for further details if they see need for them. And if you simply dump the long version on them, they might very well just skim it briefly – or simply skip looking at it at all, and miss the key details and conclusions that they actually do need, and entirely.

• Know your audience, and in this case that means knowing the scope and volume of their area of work responsibility and it means knowing at least roughly how many other documents and issues are also competing for their time. The larger and more diverse the flow of information they genuinely have to absorb and deal with, the less time and attention and energy they can afford to expend on what for them are the incidentals.
• Know the relationship that message recipients have to the tasks and issues that you would communicate to them about. Chances are that a peripherally involved stakeholder in a project or task is going to be less interested in seeing all of the details, than they are in seeing the specific types of detail that connect into and involve their area and scope of involvement in it.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will turn to consider change and volatility. And then as promised above, I will discuss the other two contexts that I initially proposed delving into here: planning, and results evaluation and its lead-in to next round planning.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at Social Networking and Business and its Page 2 continuation. And also see my series: Communicating More Effectively as a Job and Career Skill Set, for its more generally applicable discussion of focused message best practices per se. I offer that with a specific case in point jobs and careers focus, but the approaches raised and discussed there are more generally applicable. You can find that series at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, as its postings 342-358.

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