He’s the owner of an automobile repair center. There was a time when Walt was the only mechanic in his shop. He could repair all parts of a car—engine, tires, body—you name it.
But as cars grew more sophisticated, Walt had to become familiar with new polymers for bodywork, catalytic converters in the engine, delicate circuitry in the dash, and much more. He couldn’t become an expert in all of this, so he expanded his team to include specialists.
These specialists each bring individualized tools, parts, and processes. What was once a simple garage has now become a complex business with many layers of human capital, specialized infrastructure, and supply chain management.
Walt is thrilled with his growth, and he’s happy to keep expanding his capabilities. But he’s the first to admit that things have gotten out of control. His employees operate in specialized silos, so they miss the mark on upstream and downstream connections. Customers don’t grasp all of his capabilities, and some are going to competitors.
Try though he may, Walt struggles to achieve the full potential of his business.
The creeping complexity of Walt’s business is overtaking his ability to cope. As his industry grows ever more specialized, diversified, global, and technological, Walt finds it hard to understand his business the way he used to. Walt’s vendors, employees, and customers are having the same problem. If this sounds familiar, you’ve got company. Many of our clients—from Fortune 500s to large institutions—are feeling it as well.
Some gurus will tell you that the answer to complexity is a renewed commitment to simplicity. Reorganize, eliminate, streamline. It’s a lovely vision. But in the day-to-day scramble of business, it’s often a false hope. We can’t exactly leapfrog legacy systems, reverse global forces, slow the pace of competition, or shrink our way to success.
At ThoughtForm, we believe the real problem of complexity is confusion… and the solution to confusion is clarity. Rather than eliminate complexity, the power of clarity is to harness complexity and make it useful. Once you attain clarity, everyone knows what’s going on, how the dots connect, and what direction to go. Clarity doesn’t limit your potential or stunt your growth.
In a confusing world, clarity is a differentiator. Are you ready to harness its power?
Clarity is often muddled by the things we can’t see. Restoring context gives us a clear path forward.
It’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees. Mapping out the big picture—whether it’s a business process, product portfolio, or technology system—clarifies relationships that we might not recognize from our own vantage point.
For example, by giving Adam a clear map forward, he can understand the context of his surroundings and choose the best path. In the same way, by giving your employees, partners, or customers the big picture of your business, they can get their bearings, understand your business’s value, and make better decisions.
To make sense of complexity we must build on what we know. Give people the right know-how from the beginning and you give them a head start.
To find out what know-how your audience needs, imagine that you are a beginner. Give background and provide cross-training so your audience knows what’s happening in other areas. Then, build on that context to provide actionable, role-based knowledge. Once they understand the basics, they can apply new thinking on top of it and make it their own.
Let’s use Ben as an example: His culinary training isn’t just about learning how to cook a better burger. It’s about learning concepts and techniques to master any recipe—even make up his own delicacy. You, too, can help your employees have the right knowledge and skills to tackle any process or problem.
Rules and lessons bring clarity, but sometimes they get forgotten. Make it easy for people to remind themselves of what they need to do.
Sometimes, a prompt is all it takes to bring people back to center. Prompts, like checklists or head-up displays in aircraft, act as extensions of the mind and help make people’s tasks clear. They supplement people’s memory, re-focus their attention, and help them respond agilely to changing situations.
By giving Claire a readiness prompt during her skydiving excursion, she’s able to have a successful experience—even when she’s forgotten her training. In the same vein, by giving people the right prompts, you’ll help them succeed even when their memory fails them.
It’s hard for people to understand abstract or complex ideas when they can’t see any details. Tell specific stories to help people construct a clear picture.
At the end of the day, people are simply “show-me, tell-me” creatures. We work best from specifics. Make the abstract accessible through a story that grounds the idea with characters, a plot, and pictures. Whether it takes the form of a movie, a diagram, or a simple anecdote, the specifics of a story make an idea meaningful and relatable.
Dora, like many other people, has trouble getting her abstract idea to hit home. By creating a visual story, she can make the idea tangible and give her audience a basis to understand it more broadly.
Humans have an affinity for order, but order is not easily perceived. Create models that make order visible and bring clarity to chaos.
The real world is a messy place, but with a well-organized visual model, you can make complexity understandable. Good models share common strategies: grouping related elements, chunking information in people-friendly pieces, maintaining a clear hierarchy, and using a consistent vocabulary.
In Evan’s case, a table that organizes the elements helps him avoid the unfortunate consequences of guesswork. Visual models can also help your people make clear connections that lead to better choices.
Sometimes, giving people all the information burdens them. Curate the information you share to help keep people on track.
Purpose is a powerful filter for deciding what to put in and what to leave out. When you know what your audience needs to accomplish, you can curate the information into a manageable set that gives users what they need and spares them the rest.
Take Frank for example: building a table for his living room is much more difficult when he has to sift through the gargantuan manual. But, by using the manufacturer’s curated Quick-Build Guide with highlighted essential steps, Frank can get on the fast track to building his masterpiece. By giving your audience members only the information they need, they can focus their energy on the most important task at hand and have a much better experience.