Extending The Shadow Of The Future


 Retro Futurism. Courtesy Michael Davis-Burchat

The interconnectedness of rapidly developing economies around the world have significantly increased the complexity of business, evident through shifting trade barriers, high rates of technological advancement, increased interactions and stakeholder relationships, expanding product portfolios, and more strategic initiatives. Complexity has increased sixfold within the past sixty years according to the Boston Consulting Group's Complexity Index and in response, the number of structures, processes, and systems introduced by businesses have increased by a factor of thirty-five. 

Reported in the Global Simplicity Index, complexity is costing the world's 200 largest companies an average of 10.2% of their annual profits, totalling an estimated $237 billion. Instead of developing more intelligible strategies to reduce these costs and streamline their businesses, many have treated complexity as both uncontrollable and inevitable. Complexity is one of the more challenging issues facing modern business today.

Authors Yves Morieux and Peter Tollman in their book, Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity without Getting Complicated, encourage business leaders to recognize that the most effective way to deal with complexity is not by introducing more of it into their companies. Morieux and Tollman have called for an abandoning of outdated management thinking and practices, noting instead that "Companies need to invest in – and trust – the intelligence and ingenuity of their people by expanding their autonomy and room for maneuver," as a more viable alternative. 

The main idea behind the Six Simple Rules is the creation of more value through the better management of complexity or "smart simplicity", a combination of autonomy and cooperation. The first three rules, Understanding what your people do, Reinforcing integrators, and Increasing the total quantity of power within the organization, all aim to increase autonomy. The last three, Increasing reciprocity, Extending the shadow of the future, and Rewarding those who cooperate, aim to increase the level of cooperation. Together, the six rules seek to establish a more effective framework for solving complexity, without resorting to the more traditional approaches of expanding organizational structures or process. 

In one of our previous articles, Rethinking Management, we briefly mentioned one of the six rules, Extending the Shadow of the Future. It presented a truly exciting and interesting look at how organizations can harness the power of time to create a working environment that encourages people to understand how knowledge of the future influences current decisions and actions; is more motivating as a result of greater decentralized decision-making; and more mature. This was essentially explained in three ways;

  • Tightening Feedback Loops. Agile, lean, or other iterative, forms of development heavily emphasize feedback. It was suggested that by increasing the frequency and volume of feedback across all strategic initiatives, projects, and programmes, employees can surface invaluable insights and experiences which can feed into greater integration of new knowledge into solving problems, collaboration, and better decision-making.
  • Tying Performance To The Endpoint. Many times, people rarely understand the impact that they can have on the performance of others and the organization. By setting shorter term goals or brining the endpoint forward, organizations can ensure that the same people will be around when the consequences of actions begin. Having them also train their own replacements can promote greater understanding and cooperation. Leaders should see as a result, organizations which are more laser focused and deliberate, gaps more readily recognized and closed, and improved levels of employee engagement.
  • Walking A Mile In The Shoes Made For Others. Allowing employees to walk a mile in the shoes that they have created for others help to create a deeper understanding of the role of others and consequences of actions, engendering more innovation, empathy, compassion, patience, acceptance, and leadership. One such way that companies can do this is by having their product engineers manage the warranties of the products that they have designed and having managers man the front counters in customer facing roles.

Organizations should not be investing any more time and resources toward developing and establishing more rules, processes, and policies to control their organizations, as it does not truly embrace the creativity, experience, and judgment of employees. We believe that extending the shadow of the future is a novel view of modern management that lends itself to reducing some complexity by empowering its people, improving performance and employee engagement, and developing accountability.