Complexaholics

Have you ever noticed people in your organization who seem to revel in complexity? Do they drone on and on about all the infinite facets of their process/system/product/technology? I have, but I couldn’t put my finger on the right word to describe them until I recently read an article in CIO magazine titled “IT’s Recovering Complexaholics.” I think complexaholic is the word I was looking for, and more importantly, I think they are dangerous for your organization.

Although I am sure that complexaholics exist in all sorts of organizations and professions, I have experienced them mostly among information workers. I believe this is because information workers value expert power. With expert power they can achieve prestige, job security, wage increases, promotion, and more. The benefits of expert power in an information worker organization go well beyond political influence.

Perhaps one of the most effective ways that information workers can build expert power is by demonstrating a mastery of complexity in their field. Moreover, information workers are often in control of the level of complexity in their organization. This is where I think the temptation is greatest. In fact, I suggest that the benefits of demonstrating such mastery will lead many to introduce complexity, or at least allow it to increase over time, to the extent that the perceived benefits outweigh the costs.

Think about this: if you became the acknowledged expert in your organization on a particular process/system/product/technology, were invited to speak on the topic, influenced standards setting organizations, etc., would you not feel more secure in your job? …irreplaceable even? Couldn’t you command a higher salary? …or influence the direction of your organization?

It seems to me that mastery of complexity combined with unchecked ability to add or allow growth in complexity can combine to provide intoxicating expert power in your organization. And that is dangerous. Dangerous because unnecessary complexity drives inefficiency and bureaucracy, and slowly erodes the organization’s ability to achieve it’s core market goals, in effect making your organization lethargic and slow to react to market changes (a deadly situation).

So now that we have a word to describe it, what can leaders do to encourage and reward simplicity and make it harder for unnecessary complexity to grow in their organization?

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