Tagged: complexity

Fifty nine (iii)

“We’re building on Gates’ foresight. We’re building on the foresight of the best thinkers in marketing and public relations and business in general. We’re building out the nascent capabilities of the best technologies. We’re taking advantage of advances in complexity science, in strategy formulation and execution, and in media and in the global nervous system we call the Internet. We’re innovators. Others can be followers.

“If this sounds good to you William I’d be delighted to share our perspectives with your portfolio at their convenience.”

William got the check.

Fifty eight (ii)

“Is the customer important? Most definitely. Without question. 100%. But here’s the rub. You know the 20th Century was as complex as the 21st, but we didn’t appreciate complexity back then, let alone start to think about navigating it. So we needed some practicable rules, and the customer-centricity rule sure was a good one to have. It stood in stark and valuable contrast to the prior inward looking nature of firms. It wasn’t stupid then, quite the opposite in fact, but times and circumstances change and I believe it’s starting to look that way now.

“Here’s another quote for your collection, from Peter Drucker. ‘The single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that there are no results inside its walls. The result of a business is a satisfied customer.’”

“Exactly!” I cried.

Saket looked straight at me: “Exactly. Hmm. Well here’s what I think is the single most important element of that quote in today’s terms – walls. In those days an enterprise had walls. The enterprise today need not, figuratively speaking, and should not. And will not. You have a vision of social business. You’ve already explored the concept of Attenzi as a network, as not being defined by its payroll. You’ve already pictured Attenzi as a system with all kinds of people coming together in different forms at different times and influencing each other in different ways. Right?”

I nodded, but it still felt odd. I tried to explain why, as much to myself as Saket. “All kinds of people, yes. But all kinds of different groups of people. One group we call customers. Another group employees. Another suppliers, and another shareholders. They all bring something different to the party, sure, but we have to focus everything on articulating and serving the customers’ needs because that’s our only way to survive and thrive.”

Saket expanded my list: “And some people are the friends and family of employees, customers and suppliers. And some are local residents. And some chose to represent our planet and other species by proxy. And some benefit from the taxes we pay. And some pay taxes so we may benefit from the infrastructure around us. And some are customers of our customers, and suppliers to our suppliers. And so on. Attenzi is a system of systems, and a system within systems.

“As you’re familiar with the concept of customer-centricity, you’ll also know each customer is unique, right. And so I might add is everyone regardless of the role they may be playing, regardless of their fleeting or long-term interest and participation in Attenzi’s success.

“And what’s more, even though customer-centricity appears to reign, even though we say the customer is our top priority, most every occupant of the C-suite appreciates that great employees, critical suppliers and willing shareholders are number 1 priorities too!

“But wait for it, here’s the funny thing….”

My phone rang. It was Rachel reminding me I was due at the school gates five minutes ago. We both had a date with a tall glass of ice cream. I kicked myself.

Saket was polite enough to suggest we continue the following day – after all, this wasn’t in the diary and we wouldn’t want talk of customers to come between a father, a daughter and mint choc chip. There wasn’t a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

Forty five (ii)

“The 20th Century wasn’t all that long ago, but I don’t think we’d have had a conversation about brand back then like we did this morning. This idea of a nexus of values recognizes the accentuated role Attenzi plays in the big scheme of things. We have to be so much more connected to the way our world thinks and feels in order to remain relevant let alone lend relevance.

“And this opportunity to be transparent and this instinctive need to be authentic means we can’t say one thing and do another. We can’t hide from our responsibilities, and we must have a tidy house. If we want to be perceived to be a great company, a great employer, a great citizen and a great custodian of our planet, then we have no choice other than to be just that; great!

“If we want to be seen as such, we have to be as much. Reality is perception.

“Now it strikes me that some hardcore capitalists might reject some of this as too liberal, as too distanced from the primary and they might argue sole objective of the body corporate – to create wealth for its shareholders. However, to me, seeking to make a direct connection between every single activity and a fiscal measure of shareholder wealth creation is woefully simplistic to the point of dogmatic fancy. We must consign such simple mechanistic thinking to the past as we begin to acknowledge and confront the complexity of the world around us.

“And what’s more, I see no such tension. The shareholders’ long-term interests are best served by our thinking here. We are just recognizing that the changes around us demand we change the way we go about business, and possibly change what it actually means to be in business.

“We’re in service to our customers, to ourselves, to shareholders, to all stakeholders – each stakeholder benefits in the long-term when other stakeholders work with rather than against it.

“So rather than focusing on the short-term transaction – ‘make stuff, sell it, job done’ – we must focus on the lifelong relationship by thinking about everything we do in terms of service.

“Technologically, we’ve arrived at a new epoch. This decade is a so-called perfect storm, in the positive sense. We no longer have to rely on old rules of thumb. We no longer need to trade off the short-term and long-term so bluntly. We can attempt to navigate complexity, to try and plot the optimal course through all these interacting elements.

“It can never be an easy journey, but the more sensitized we are to the zeitgeist, to our customers and ourselves and all stakeholders, the greater our facility to respond appropriately, and to lead appropriately.

“Perhaps Saket would put it like this: ‘Perfection is not just about control. It is also about letting go’, Black Swan, 2010.”

I saw Saket smile.

“We have to open ourselves out to the world, and let the world in. Attenzi is no longer defined by its payroll or by its shareholders but by our participation in a wider network.

“And these new technologies enable us to participate effectively and efficiently. We don’t have media for media’s sake – we have it to communicate. And we don’t communicate for communication’s sake – but to influence and be influenced productively.

“And we’ve learned that there’s potentially influence in everything we do, and sometimes in those things we don’t do.

Thirty nine (ii)

In particular, not everyone yet appreciated the difference between “complexity” and “complicated”, especially as they’re often used synonymously in everyday language.

ACTION: Eli to arrange a complexity training session.

This training aside, the consensus is that navigating complexity – in the age of big data (see below) – represents a source of considerable competitive advantage.

With the exception of news of Georgio’s home remodeling, the conversation over lunch was dominated by the morning’s work. More specifically, it was dominated by everyone retelling in their own words what they’d heard and learned, a good sign that we were truly knowledge building.

Thirty nine (i)


Eli took us through the meaning of complexity.

I know you don’t need me to revisit the general aspects of complexity. I will however leave in the bit where I quoted Dom just to double underline how important I think this is.

Eli pointed out that most things mankind is interested in are complex – in other words they exhibit the characteristics of complexity – and yet time and time again people don’t understand that. Instead, they develop superstitions or myths or ‘rules’ or stories to help come to terms with the phenomena they witness, indeed anything it seems but address complexity for what it is.

Saket reminded us of a question he’d posed a while ago now. The ‘market’ is the name we give to individual human agents in the aggregate, so what do we want each of those humans to do exactly? And how might these actions combine in the aggregate? It’s this aggregation that’s critical to the question of complexity.

Michelle reminded us of another of Saket’s previous questions, paraphrasing and putting it into the context here. Why are the frequency and duration of our plans linked to the time it takes our planet to complete a particular cycle around the Sun? What’s 365 days got to do with our business exactly?

If complexity implies we should expect the unexpected, and if uncertainty increases the further ahead we look, what makes us think planning in December for the following October is a good idea? John concurred and pointed out that IT had moved to a faster cycle some years back, typically an eight or twelve week drumbeat, in an approach that’s become known as “agile”. Why then can’t we have “agile marketing” for example?

William asked if Saket was advocating short-termism, to which Saket replied that it wasn’t a case of preferring short- or long-termism, but the facility to take complexity into account. A long-term vision remains as critical to business success as ever, but flexibility (finding a new course to execute the strategy; operational) and agility (recognizing when the strategy needs adaption; strategic) are business critical too.

The group appeared to be split roughly in half, with those who said they now understand complexity and those who said they could do with some more information.

Thirty one (i)

“And so that’s where we got to.”

It was Friday evening, Dom was over, and I’d invested in a nice bottle of Gavi di Gavi to have with cod, new potatoes and peas.

“And you want to do what to the business?” he asked.

“Yeah, good point. Haven’t yet worked out what to do on the back of these insights, but it feels like we’ll be able to synthesize that at the away day. It feels like it’s the kind of thing that could help us transform a decent company into a great one.”

“Run that link between ‘Information’ and ‘Influence’ by me again.”

“Well, we define useful information as information we actually use. i.e. we do something differently than otherwise. If information doesn’t do this, then it isn’t useful. So I guess therefore it’s useless. In fact, it’s just getting in the way of us seeing and acting on the good stuff.”

Dom swished the wine around his glass and watched it settle. He did so again as I forked the fish to see how it was doing.

“Sorry I was late again by the way. Sheer traffic. Wonder which car started it.”

I checked the saucepan of potatoes as Dom said this, but I could feel it tease me. He was poking me about complexity. I let it simmer; the thought that is, the potatoes were done.

“Tell me,” Dom said, “did you and your IT chap reach the same conclusion?”

“Funny you should ask that. Not quite. When I recalled our conversation this week I’d added some more interpretation without realizing that John and I hadn’t actually spoken about it. And of course, John started the thread in the first place. So I guess we sort of bounced off each other.”

“So you were both party to the same conversation discussing the same concepts yet you did different things with the content of that conversation at different times?”

“Well, it’s just I took it a bit further, and maybe John was too busy, or took it elsewhere and hasn’t yet shared that with me.”

“So. You and John both debated the same ideas, the same information. Yet, in structuring and organizing this information to form a framework for the incorporation of further information, in helping you in your evaluation of the world – the result of which we generally refer to as knowledge – you got to different places for whatever reasons?”

Thirty (iii)

“There are flows of resources – which I generally think of as time, money and materials. That definition of marketing you referenced Michelle means that we work out what the market wants or might want, and what we can deliver, and then plan to exchange products and services for money. Reciprocal flows. For example, the product flows out and the money flows in. And we hope to keep that up.

“And that’s where another kind of flow comes in, to do with reputation Yvonne. After all, without a decent reputation we can’t hope to keep those sales up. I’m talking about influence flows. Influence goes around comes around.”

“Yes!” John got our attention. “Of course, data, information and knowledge flow. I meant to say that. And when they do so usefully, which we now think of as when someone changes what they’d have thought or done otherwise, that’s influence.”

“That’s really interesting,” said Michelle. “So some influence flows through my department, some through the separate discipline of public relations,” (I couldn’t work out whether the emphasis was sarcastic or respectful towards Yvonne but I had my suspicion) “and some through IT.”

“And…?” challenged Saket. Given the silence, he continued. “And there’s influence flowing in the actions of customer service, procurement, logistics, HR, sales. In fact, in everything. There’s influence in everything an organization does, and sometimes in what it does not do. Let me read you something.”

It was Saket’s turn to find something on his computer.

“Reputation management does not actually mean managing reputation, and brand management does not actually mean managing a brand. They mean actively attending to the business of influencing and being influenced such that the resultant beliefs or opinions held about us and our products are conducive to our achieving organizational objectives.”

“When you say it like that,” said Michelle, “it really puts the customer on a pedestal for sure.”

“There’s no such thing as ‘for sure’. That’s the only sure thing I do know. A Beautiful Mind, 2001.”

After a few seconds of adjusting to Saket’s movie speak, Michelle asked him to explain.

“Well, maybe this whole so-called ‘customer-centric’ way of thinking is an over simplification. The quote I just read out didn’t reference the customer. It didn’t put the customer ahead of employees past, present and future, or suppliers or partners or shareholders, past, present and future. Or the general public interest. Or the planet. All stakeholders matter, and to put one consistently ahead of all the others sounds increasingly stupid to me. It doesn’t appear to recognize the complexities of the world we live in.”

My conversation with Dom about complexity crashed back into my mind, and I had a feeling of clarity, even if I couldn’t actually articulate it. One thing I did know is that I’d had about as much mental stimulation as I could cope with on one call, and I directed the remainder of the call to planning the away day.

Sixteen (ii)

To generalize Dom’s narrative, when it comes to our organization’s stakeholders in general, one phenomenon of the system is our reputation – the resultant regard these people have for our brand collectively, or indeed in sub-groups, and how this regard changes over time.

My gut was telling me that Dom was spot on, but I also know he likes to be challenged.

“How does that square with Occam’s razor then?” was the best I could muster.

Dom thought for perhaps a whole millisecond. “Well the razor – the idea that the simplest explanation will be the most plausible – has a caveat; ‘until evidence is presented to prove it false’. And while complexity science remains a work in progress, the evidence at this level is incontrovertible. Groups of people behave in ways that you can’t predict by studying them individually. You can’t learn much about the termite mound by studying the individual termite, or the traffic jam by studying the car.

“Look, I’m not saying that some people won’t be tipped over the TV purchasing edge by what’s-his-name, his mile-wide smile and trademark wink. Acknowledging complexity does not rule out this outcome. Acknowledging complexity however will likely attribute such celebrity endorsement a considerably lower value in the mix of things than it appears to command today.”

I made a mental bookmark to revisit the ongoing relationship between Attenzi and celebrity chef Alice B.

Sixteen (i)

Dom and I met up for dinner and Dom set the tone. He was in one of his particular frames of mind.

He had been reading Fault Lines by Raghuram G. Rajan at my recommendation. It’s a fascinating book about the way the global financial system broke down, and Dom had continued to investigate the understanding of financial market complexity. Complexity was not, he told me, well understood.

Complexity is the phenomena that emerge from a collection of interacting objects. The interacting objects could be molecules of air and the phenomenon the weather. It could be vehicles and the phenomenon the traffic. It could be stockbrokers and the phenomenon the stock market.

Human ‘objects’ could be the population of Cairo, “the 99%”, sports fans in a sports stadium, people who like photos of cats, your customers, or your employees; in fact, any collection of people interacting with each other. Influencing each other.

“Most things mankind is interested in are complex – in other words they exhibit traits of complexity – and yet time and time again people don’t understand it. Instead, they develop superstitions or myths or stories or ‘rules’ to help come to terms with the phenomena they witness, indeed anything it seems but address reality head on.”

I got the feeling something had rubbed Dom up the wrong way.

“Take celebrity culture.”

Now he was on a roll.

“I’m supposed to buy a SiQi TV because that bloke in the films, what’s-his-name, appears on an ad telling us he’s got one and loves it. Firstly, he was most likely given it if he does indeed have one, and a wad of cash to promote it, and many people who see the ad know that. Secondly, he might be on TV, but I don’t see how that makes him a TV set expert, and many people who see the ad know that. Thirdly, if I was in the market for a new TV and I did buy this SiQi one, did I really buy it because of that ad? Or because he was in it? Possibly not.

“My impressions of SiQi, of what it stands for, of its engineering prowess, of its aesthetics, of its customer service, of its general approach to the world, has formed like sedimentary rock over many years from my experiencing its products and services and competing products and services, from talking with friends and family about their experiences, from seeing what SiQi gets involved with and how it conducts business. In other words, I have interacted with lots of people in relation to the SiQi brand, products and services, and its competition. My eventual choice of TV is the output of a complex system.”