The single biggest challenge facing business executives in the coming years is managing complexity. As our businesses get bigger and more diverse, as our customers change and grow, as organizations become larger, more complex, as the amount of information and data grows, while our time to execute compresses, it becomes much more difficult to to manage the business.

We develop models and frameworks to look at our businesses, figuring out where we need to tweak, what we need to change, how we need to focus. We take problems that are overwhelming in their complexity, breaking them down into components to simplify them and make them more manageable.

It’s impossible to think, “How do I maximize the performance of the organization,” particularly as the organizations get larger and the pace of change gets faster. We break big problems and issues into smaller problems and issues. We further break those down even further, until we find a problem we can solve.

Then we go solve that problem…..

Unfortunately, that’s all we’ve done. We’ve only solved that very small problem. We’ve forgotten that we’ve broken the big problem into smaller and smaller problems. Until we address all those smaller problems, we will never begin to solve the bigger problem.

We also forget. In solving our problem, we may have created problems for someone else. Not wanting to pick on marketing (but taking great joy in doing so), they may be faced with the problem of creating more leads–more MQLs. We and they know they can solve that problem. But does it create a problem for sales, perhaps they are the wrong leads, perhaps sales doesn’t have the ability to handle those leads…… Marketing has solved their problem, but has unwittingly created a problem for sales. Likewise, we in sales, in solving our problems, sometimes create problems for marketing or others in the organization.

Or even worse, we think of only ourselves in isolation, we don’t recognize we are part of a whole. We focus only on our goals and objectives. Selfishly, but naturally, we focus on our own problems, not realizing that what we do is part of a bigger framework and others may be working on other aspects of the “bigger” problem and what we have done is, unwittingly, created even more problems.

I suppose it’s human nature, but we tend to look at our own problems in a microscope. We forget the microscope dramatically limits our field of vision. We forget all the things that are outside our field of vision, but are part of the problems we and others are trying to solve. We may solve the right problem—but in the wrong way. Or too often, we find ourselves solving the wrong problems in the wrong way. Or even, we may be looking at problems through the wrong lens, and if we changed the lens, the problem is completely different.

The great “systems theorists,” business thinkers, even scientists have always recognized we are dealing in systems of interrelated systems. They know the only way to begin to understand these is to break them into subsystems. They break complex problems into smaller problems that can be solved. Yet while they are doing this, they never forget that each component of the system impacts other components—often very far away (Hence a butterfly in Brazil might create a tsunami in Japan).

We cannot limit our view of the problems we solve to what we see in the microscope. While we may be focused on what we see in the microscope, we are irresponsible if we don’t consider the things that are outside our field of view, but which may be impacted by what we do.

We will never solve the “big problems” we face by keeping them as big problems. We have to break them down. But as we solve those individual problems, we must make sure these solutions fit within the context of the big problem and contribute to the solution of those big problems, that our separate problem solving efforts work to reinforce each other in solving our individual and bigger problems.

Special Note: My thanks to Charlie Green for the title to this post!