Complexity is the Work of the Devil…

Devil in the Detail...

How many times growing up have you heard that the “Devil is in the detail”, while for me a “big picture” person it was quite a bit and in fact have a lot of respect for those folks like the surgeon who spent all those hours reattaching the severed nerves in my left hand so I could type this.  However in the business world this will be a little different story as while attending “Developing a Leading Edge Operations Strategy” at MIT last week there was a lot of discussion of the “Devil” if you will in the context of what he brings to the world of complexities and what this means to us as business leaders.

First let’s start out by looking at why this is a problem in developing an operational model for a business.   As here we will find the fact of “complexity” at the root of the problem and before you go off claiming I’ve had a “Homer Simpson” moment, we need to look a little bit closer at the obvious as most things are “complex” right?  Well this is the issue from a conceptual point of view it is possible to say that “complexity” is in actuality “infinite” in its perspective and can even be considered factorial in nature.  As the closer you look at complexity the more of it you will find and so on much like one of Benoit Mandelbrot’s famed number sets the deeper you dig, the deeper you have to dig to infinite ends.

In fact we can even use Mandelbrot’s work to solve for very complex problems in this space; however that’s for another post as here we are working at the Director/Executive level of the business and waxing here would be a kin to being stuck in a repetitive programming loop.  As if we look back at our opening paragraph, where we placed the Devil in the detail, the reason this is a problem can be explained by yet another adage.  So as we moved into the business world and up the ladder you are sure to have heard the cliché of “analysis paralysis” where by a manager locks themselves out of making a decision because the amount of data like Mandelbrot’s amazing figures seem to grow at the same pace as the analysis.  This essentially places the decision maker on a “hamster wheel” as they run after that last piece of information they believe they need only to find yet another laying just beyond that one.

So how to deal with this then and avoid the “Devils Trap”, enter Occam’s razor to the rescue as in layman’s term its often translated to the simplest answer is the best answer.  However in reality it is a working principle which suggests selecting the competing hypothesis that makes the “fewest new assumptions”, when the [multiple] hypotheses are equal in other respects.  For clarity, if they both sufficiently explain available data in the first place at an aggregated level then one should exclude the “complex” hypotheses.  An example I like to use is the infamous Pi, as if you look at it like this:

3.14 = 3.1415926535 8979323846 2643383279 5028841971 6939937510 5820974944 5923078164 0628620899 8628034825 3421170679 8214808651 3282306647 0938446095 5058223172 5359408128 4811174502 8410270193 8521105559 6446229489 5493038196 4428810975 6659334461 2847564823 3786783165 2712019091 4564856692 3460348610 4543266482 1339360726 0249141273 7245870066 0631558817 4881520920 9628292540 9171536436 7892590360 0113305305 4882046652 1384146951 9415116094 3305727036 5759591953 0921861173 8193261179 3105118548 0744623799 6274956735 1885752724 8912279381 8301194912 9833673362 4406566430 8602139494 6395224737 1907021798 6094370277 0539217176 2931767523 8467481846 7669405132 0005681271 4526356082 7785771342 7577896091 7363717872 1468440901 2249534301 4654958537 1050792279 6892589235 4201995611 2129021960 8640344181 5981362977 4771309960 5187072113 4999999837 2978049951 0597317328 1609631859 5024459455 3469083026 4252230825 3344685035 2619311881 7101000313 7838752886 5875332083 8142061717 7669147303 5982534904 2875546873 1159562863 8823537875 9375195778 1857780532 1712268066 1300192787 6611195909 2164201989 3809525720 1065485863 2788659361 5338182796 8230301952 0353018529 6899577362 2599413891 2497217752 8347913151 5574857242 4541506959

Here Occam’s Razor doesn’t say both must be equal as in practicality they can’t be as Pi in its literal form is never ending as it repeats which means its un-usable.  However we find it being used every day, so as you can quickly see the “devil in the complexity” can come to blind you of the basic facts very quickly…


About Joseph Campbell

As a strong believer in the fact that "people work for people", it has been a life driver to better to understand the complexities of the various aspects which drive efficiency within this axiom, especially the concepts of leadership. Supporting this, I have been fortunate enough to having experienced this as leader on a global basis over the last decade and half. During this time it has been clear there are three core drivers being Life, Leadership and Economics.
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2 Responses to Complexity is the Work of the Devil…

  1. Pingback: Accuracy and Complexity an Unsurprising Duo… | The Viral Loop…

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