IBM Report: Capitalizing on Complexity

Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study

Do you occasionally sit back and wonder why work is so complicated?  What happened to our worlds of work when we knew almost every day how to attack and beat back the infamous “to-do” list?  A good day ten years ago was when I finished all but a couple of the items on my list, and was charged up to refresh and hit it again the next day.  Those days are gone.  Work and life priorities are in constant change.  Reaction times require continuous immediacy.  Requirements simply present themselves as “complex”, sometimes bordering on the edge of chaotic.

If Uncertainty was the word for 2010, then Complexity is the word for 2011. Complexity is defined as: “the varied relationship of multiple elements that are relative and changing over time.”  The nature of the elements, the relationship of the connections, and the change nature of it all, compound over time resulting is a loss of predictability and order in the system.  The personal result is that today our daily lists of to-do’s are often blown up in hour one of the day, never to be returned to again.

In the spring of 2010, IBM released the fourth year of a study of what is on the minds of the world’s CEO’s.  The title of the 2010 report is Capitalizing on Complexity.  The introduction to the report states:

“In a world fraught with uncertainty, what are today’s CEOs doing to strengthen their situations against competitors?

Previously, CEOs have consistently identified change as their most pressing challenge. Today, CEOs are telling us that the complexity of operating in an increasingly volatile and uncertain world is their primary challenge. And, a surprising number of them told us that they feel ill-equipped to succeed in this drastically different world.”


There is a force of change upon business. Call it the three C’s:  Complexity; Coping; Creativity.  The report provides insight into understand the nature of the forces on business:

Business complexity is defined as operation “in a world that is substantially more volatile, uncertain and complex.”

Coping is defined as leaders’ doubting “their ability to manage” complexity.

Creativity is defined as “the most important leadership quality”, and the “practice and encouraged experimentation and innovation throughout their organizations.”  Further definition includes taking “more calculated risks, find(ing) new ideas, and innovating in how they lead and communicate.”

According to the responses from the CEO’s, they are expecting creativity to become the light in the fog.  CEO’s believe that, “The most successful organizations co-create products and services with customers, and integrate customers into core processes.”  They are doing this, “by drawings more insight from the available data [while making] customer intimacy their number-one priority.”  The clear sentiment of the creative process the CEO’s are planning for is not one of waiting for the genius of a single creative to arrive and save the day.  The CEO’s expect “creatives” to create business solutions in relationships together and with others; and the CEO’s intend “non-creatives” to think and act creatively.  The CEO’s suggest a self-sustaining, replicating process of human centric creation to solve human centric, complex problems.

The CEO’s describe a three pronged approach to creatively engage with the complexities businesses are facing.  Each key element of success has action steps and challenging questions to guide us into approaching our 2011 world at work.


The call to action statement:

Of all the relevant and intriguing messages of this insightful report, the concluding statement is worth reading many times.  Print it and pin it within plain sight to remind that navigating through 2011 will be volatile, exciting and meaningful.

“Even though complexity seems to be at an all-time high, it’s still rising.  Each day, business processes are becoming more global, interconnected and collaborative.  But the complexity that comes from involving more people, more organizations and more information also brings fresh perspectives, deeper insight, and more innovation.

In managing, masking or eliminating complexity, creative leaders will invent new business models based on entirely different assumptions.  Benefits are to be had for those who create new products, services, delivery methods and channels that hide intricacies and make things simple in the eyes of consumers and citizens.

For (leaders) and their organizations, avoiding complexity is not an option – the choice comes in how they respond to it.  Will they allow complexity to become a stifling force that slows responsiveness, overwhelms employees and customers, or threatens profits?  Or do they have the creative leadership, customer relationships and operating dexterity to turn complexity into a true advantage.”