Quality Book Shelf – It’s Not Complicated

It’s Not Complicated: The Art and Science of Complexity in Business by Rick Nason

Nason states at the beginning of the book: “Engineers, scientists, and ecologists have been thinking in terms of complexity for fifty years, and it is time that the business community considered some of the valuable and interesting lessons the field has to offer.”

This book is a great introduction to the concept of complexity, and I think it should be required reading.

Complexity generally occurs whenever and wherever there are human interactions.” 

“It is thinking, creativity, and risk taking that lead to sustainable competitive advantage.” 

Over-reliance on data can be dangerous, and Nason goes into detail on how US Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara disastrously managed the Vietnam War with spreadsheets: “You cannot collect data on things that are unknown … even if the factors are known, the precision needed for the data to be useful for a complex problem would not be achievable.”

None of us are as smart as all of us, and nature trumps us all. Nason refers to Orgel’s Second Rule that, “evolution is smarter than you are and that events in the business [human] world turn out to be more creative and clever than the best minds can imagine.” In addition, serendipity plays a critical role: “Complicated systems allow us the illusion that luck or serendipity played at best a limited role in our success and thus, that whatever success we have is almost exclusively the result of our own skills and effort.”

I could basically cut-and-paste quotes all day.

As someone who feels we overuse complicated and complex as synonyms, I recommend this book to all as a way to get familiar with the core concepts. I sort of wish he would write the companion volume, “No, that’s not complex.”

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