We’re seeing great examples of the relative power of experts right now.
The team at Mercedes are absolutely dominant in F1. They’re in a well defined highly boundaried system. Hiring the best experts, from Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton, to the best engineers, coaches and support staff. Getting each of them to understand their own domain intimately, and make continuous small improvements leaves everybody else aspiring to second place.
Then we have SAGE, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, all business leaders, and all politicians operating in an unbounded system, where domain expertise remains impressive, but no match for the circumstances they find themselves in. Anything they do generates a response in an area they do not expect. It’s a no win situation.
When Complicated turns to Complex
When the complicated (F1) turns complex (the impact of Covid-19) experts are snowblind. They cannot see through the myriad, swirling pieces of data hurtling past them in random, ever changing patterns. If FI teams had to race through normal rush hour London, obeying all the rules that normal travellers do, the results would not be so ordered.
There are ways of dealing with complex, and it’s called decentralisation. Give the authority and capability to those touching the problem. The experts back at head office or wherever are just too far way, practically, experientially and emotionally to be of help. They’re not bad, or incompetent – they are just too far away from the action. By the time they understand what’s going on, it’s too late.
Spring is coming
When we have a complex problem, the best we can do is change its shape as to how it affects us. No matter what we think about our politicians as they try to balance the relative risks of lives lost versus damage to the economy as we knew it, it’s a thankless task. The best they can do is allocate resources and hope.
Spring will arrive on the other side of what will be a difficult winter. Until then, we have a choice – to hunker down and hope, or to do something useful.
The difference between a complicated problem and a complex one is that you can never solve a complex problem. The boundaries are just too big, with too many moving parts. Also, we cannot reshape the whole of the problem – just the bits that touch us.
We would do well to remember that Spring will arrive anyway. We should be ready for it.
Getting ready for Spring.
Think like a gardener.
- Plan what you can. The gardeners amongst you already have a plan. You’ve decided what you want your garden to look like and are already doing your preparation and early planting now. You’ve got things in the Greenhouse. That’s as much as you can do. Gardening, like business is largely an exercise in hope. (and when things don’t work out, gardeners don’t look to the Government for help)
- Look after your resources. Gardeners are servicing the mowers, cleaning their tools, and putting them safely away where they know where to find them. In business, we would do well to look after our teams. What happens in Spring will be determined for you by the five people you hold closest. The same will be true for them, and so on through the business. Look after them. Work with them. Do the research now and consider your options, probabilities of success and make the call.
- Look after the Land. Land, just like business gets depleted by use. We need to look after it, dress it, nurture it and give it time to recover. It is not an infinite resource. Trying to drain every last dreg of efficiency leaves no room for resilience.
- Plan to grow something beautiful. I like cabbage, but only up to a point.
- Recognise there are no guarantees. Look after yourself. Business, like gardening, is an exercise in hope but sometimes, the weather, or pests, or whatever are against you and you have to start over. Be in the shape to do that.