27 Jul July 27, 2020 – Complicated vs Complex David Komlos, Data Rob Ristagno and Food Supply Chain Layla Kasha
What is most important is to differentiate between complicated
and complex. Complicated challenges are difficult for the novice.
But they are solved problems. Call in the experts. Complex
challenges are unsolved problems.
David Komlos, CEO of Syntegrity, is an entrepreneur, early-stage investor and speaker who has helped change the way many global leaders approach their top challenges. From Fortune 100 transformation to international aid, content creation in sports and entertainment to improving access to life-saving products, David advises top leaders and enterprises on how to dramatically accelerate solutions and execution on their defining challenges. He frequently speaks on topics related to complexity, fast problem-solving and mobilization, and scaling talent. David frequently speaks on topics related to complexity, fast problem-solving and mobilization, and unleashing organizations’ latent talent to bring about controlled explosions of progress. David has also recently authored a book Cracking Complexity: The Breakthrough Formula for Solving Just About Anything Fast, where along with his co-author, he goes on to share their proven formula for dramatically shortening the process and solving an organization’s toughest challenges in mere days.
Rob Ristagno – Founder/CEO of Sterling Woods Group and Author of A Member is Worth A Thousand Visitors
We have to use the COVID opportunity to double down on our
very best relationships with our very best, most enthusiastic
customers, and the data will point us to the right place to look.
Rob Ristagno is an author, keynote speaker, and CEO of the Sterling Woods Group, where he always focuses on embracing data science to spur organic growth. Rob maximizes near-term sales growth by using data to uncover low-risk, high-leverage sales and marketing strategies. Rob has previously served as a senior executive at several digital media and eCommerce businesses, including as COO of America’s Test Kitchen. Starting his career at McKinsey, he has served companies big and small, including Visa, Pepsi, and Comcast. Committed to spreading this message, Rob is the author of A Member is Worth A Thousand Visitors: A Proven Method for Making More Money Online, which provides the specific processes, analysis, case studies, and templates needed to launch an outstanding membership program – a membership so compelling that customers can’t wait to enroll. Rob is a regular keynote speaker at conferences around the world, and has been featured on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and Digiday.
Layla Kasha – SVP Marketing & Communication at Grocery Outlet
The square meal that a lot of kids get is at school. When they
are out of school, it is really challenging. COVID has tripled
the food insecurity.
Layla Kasha discusses the current state of food banks across the country, and details on Grocery Outlet’s 10th Annual Independence from Hunger (IFH) National Food Drive Campaign. Layla is the head of marketing at Grocery Outlet, a high-growth, extreme value retailer of quality, name-brand consumables, and fresh products, she oversees the company’s brand strategy and communications. Layla joined Grocery Outlet in 2017, after holding key leadership roles at Save Mart Supermarkets, Sprouts Farmers Markets and Cold Stone Creamery. Throughout her tenure, she has led four major rebrands and played a pivotal role in two initial public offerings, including Grocery Outlet’s transition from a private company to a publicly-traded company, when it joined Nasdaq in 2019.
Highlights from David’s Interview
Cracking Complexity, this sort of involves understanding how complex something is. There are varying degrees of complexity, but I think what’s most important is to differentiate between complicated and complex. Complicated challenges are challenges that are difficult for the novice if you’re seeing them for the first time especially, but they are solved problems. The best way to approach them is to call in the experts and have them do whatever needs to be done. For example, if you’re installing a new accounting system in your company, don’t try to figure it out yourself, just call in the experts. If your car breaks down, take it to a mechanic, don’t start tinkering unless you really know what you’re doing. So there are complicated challenges that are solved problems, and then there are complex challenges that are unsolved. They haven’t been solved many times before, they have to be solved fresh each time. You need people bought into the solutions if you’re going to see execution happen, those are much more difficult than complicated challenges.
So then, the question is how do we solve a complex problem if it’s unsolved in the past? Basically, the knee jerk reaction for most leaders, entrepreneurs, and big businesses is to also call in the experts, call in the consultants to figure it out for you. While that can work sometimes, it doesn’t work necessarily every time, nor does it work fast enough, nor does it align and mobilize your people; whether you’re in a small company or a big company. What we’ve learned over the years is, the best way to approach unsolved problems like how do I grow faster, how do I deliver a differentiated customer experience, how do I take out cost from my business in a sustainable way without undermining the productivity and the customer experience that my business delivers? Those kinds of complex multi-dimensional challenges are best solved by large groups comprised of a carefully chosen diversity of talent, really identifying who are all the key people I need to bring together because they have pieces of the puzzle. Nobody has the whole puzzle, I need to bring together the people with the pieces of the puzzle and then I need to have them connect the dots themselves. What we find is when you get people together and you force collisions amongst them, you force really candid dialogue, issue-focused dialogue, you cut through the mustard, and you have all the right people at the table, if you know how to do that, you can actually get the work done in solving your challenge and in mobilizing your people to execute really quickly.
The key to all of that is the diversity of talent, I would say that’s half the battle. The other half is making sure that that diversity of talent connects really well amongst all the people you brought to the table. So if you’re used to looking to your left and looking to your right and involving the usual suspects in trying to solve, how are we going to do better as an organization, how are we going to deliver more value, etc? If you’re always convening the same group of people or turning to the same group of people, you’re going to get the same kinds of answers. It’s really important to turn to the same people, but also supplement and augment them with non-usual suspects; maybe involve a few of your customers, maybe involve a few of your supply chain partners, maybe involve an external expert as well. What’s really important is to look at the right variety of people for the variety of the challenge that you’re faced with, and really be very specific and careful and deliberate about who are you bring into the conversation.
Now, conversation, you have to underline that word. It’s a conversation amongst everybody, it’s not a podium for one or two people, it’s not a place for the loudest voices to dominate or for the introverts to be stifled. It’s where you want all those people who you’ve brought into the conversation to have a really good exchange with one another. So it’s a diversity of talent, bringing everyone to the party, but then having a really good party, and making sure that you’ve got everything addressed in terms of how those people interact with one another. If you bring the right people into the dialogue, and you focus on optimizing their interactions, they will solve the problem really quickly.
Basically, there is a formula for solving these big challenges quickly. It’s a 10-step formula, I won’t go through all the steps. But as an entrepreneur, as someone who’s leading a big initiative or trying to grow a value-creating organization, it’s really useful to phrase your challenge or your opportunity in the form of a question. So instead of saying, I want to get to $10 million in sales or $100 million sales or $1 million in sales, ask what will it take now and over the next year, or now in over the next six months, or now and over the next three years to achieve $10 million in sales? Then you may want to modify that question a little bit more, you might want to be very deliberate about being a great place to work. So you might say, what’s it going to take to get to $10 million in sales while being a top employer of choice? You might want to further modify that question, you might want to say what will it take to get to $10 million in sales while being a great place to work and delivering value to the community? However you phrase your question, you want to be very deliberate about it. That question will serve as a really good invitation to the people you want to bring in to help solve it, internally and externally. That’s the first step, really phrasing your challenge in the form of a good question.
To give you a quick example, going to the moon was both a complicated and complex challenge. Building the rocket boosters, the physics, understanding the math and the science, that’s all complicated. We have engineers and scientists for that, and they know how to do those things. But mobilizing the entire country to make it happen, that was a complex undertaking and done very well. That’s the difference.
I’d also like to give you an example of the formula working in practice. So we worked with a small Insurance Brokerage that was doing about $10 million in sales, and they wanted to really up their game: become a VIP brokerage, move up in the food chain, grow. What they did was they brought together, not only their whole set of employees, but they brought external consultants to the table. They brought some of the insurance firms, some of the underwriters. Together, they were able to tackle a question, what’s it going to take for us to become a VIP tier two brokerage over the next three years? Not only did they put a roadmap in place that solved that question, but they got all of their staff bought in from a variety of offices. This organization had grown through a bunch of mergers and acquisitions of smaller brokerages, so one of the byproducts was really telling the team for the first time. Plus, getting noticed by some of those big insurance companies as an up and coming and really motivated organization, making them very visible. So by bringing together a diverse group of people, including influencers who could really help them, they not only cracked the challenge and put together the roadmap for growth, they mobilized internally, and they also got a lot more attention and support from their customers and their underwriters. Three years later, they were basically the triple size and they were buying up much bigger firms. About five years later, they were acquired by a much larger firm; a really good outcome for the entrepreneurs, a really good outcome for the employees, and a really good outcome for the insurance firms that had supported them.
Now, here’s how you can put this formula into practice for a smaller five-person company. So those five people, I would say are the usual suspects. You’re probably trying to grow your business or just do better for your employees, make a bigger mark in your business. You probably turn to the same people and they’re probably very engaged in what you’re doing. I would say, you could ask a question that’s relevant to your business: what do we have to do now and over the next two years to double or triple our business, in a way that’s good for us and for the community and for our customers? That could be the invitation for the five of you to really get together, but also bring in maybe some of your closest customers; maybe bring in someone from the community, someone who’s done business consulting or grown another business. Think about a more diverse group of individuals who would have different perspectives, and then pose that question to them, and ask them what they think you need to talk about, what are the topics they need to explore together in order to answer that question? You might come up with four or five or six topics of discourse that you think you have to explore in order to answer that growth question: you might talk about adjacent markets, culture, pricing, or promotions.
Don’t just talk about those topics once, this is really important as part of the formula. Talk about or explore each of those topics at least twice, maybe even three times. So if you’re going to talk about new markets to enter or new promotions to offer, don’t just talk about those topics once, talk about them twice or three times, and really try to fine-tune your thinking and really try to bring everyone’s voice to the table as best as you can. We have a technique we use to do that, we assign people to these topics, not only as people who are going to talk about them but people who are going to critique them. So have a few people in each of your meetings who are designated critics, and they really have to listen to what you guys are talking about. Only after 15 or 20 minutes are you inviting them to provide their critique. The benefit of that is, these people are listening in a different way than they normally would, they’re hearing things in a different way and they’re able to help you connect the dots better. So it can be very effective. I think consultants have a lot of value to add, especially when their brainpower and their experience and industry knowledge and thinking styles can be applied in the right setting.
Let’s switch the topics for a second and talk about Syntegrity. For about 20 years, Syntegrity has been working with the CEOs of some of the biggest organizations in the world, across every industry. Governments, not for profit NGOs, private equity firms, startups, everything in between. It’s always around a defining moment that an organization is faced with, where a leader will realize that the pursuit they’re after, the opportunity they’re pursuing, the challenge they’re trying to address, it’s on the wrong trajectory. So Syntegrity gets called in when a leader wants to make a rapid course correction, we have a very sophisticated way to make that happen in a few days. Again, it’s by involving a diversity of talent from within and around that organization, and then forcing really good collisions amongst them: that’s the secret. So we’re in and out very quickly. We’ve worked with these leaders over many years on many different kinds of challenges, it’s been very rewarding to see them thrive. When they’re at this inflection point, they either course correct or they don’t. When they course correct, they’re able to move with speed and momentum and conviction and clarity. When you don’t course correct, then things stall, you’re not delivering value to your stakeholders, your employees are getting demotivated, and so on and so forth. So we’ve been very fortunate to have this really amazing approach that we’ve been able to deploy in the same way in a myriad of complex situations over those 20 years.
I would also like to explain a word that I mentioned here, collision. So basically, collision is an incisive, candid, unbridled interaction between two or more people. It’s not surface-level, superficial, it’s not the loudest voices dominating, it’s not political. It is brass tacks, what you see is what you get, it’s deep, it’s seeking insight or solution or inquiry. It’s all the things you want in a small business, a medium-sized business, and big business. It’s very different from a mainstream mainstay run of the mill interaction or conversation. So these kinds of collisions take engineering, you can’t just throw people into a room and let them have at it because then all the dysfunctions of large groups dominate. You have to engineer a conversation. If you think about it, what I’m saying is you have to bring a diversity of talents to the table, no matter how small your organization is or how big, to solve a multi-dimensional challenge. The minute you buy any of that, you have a larger group on your hands. If you’re bringing a diversity of talents, you’re involving more people rather than fewer. So you have to be able to carefully engineer the interactions and the collisions, you have to elevate them to incisive, candid, issues-focused dialogue and debate. It’s only then that you really get to the heart of the matter, and able to figure out what to do about it all.
We haven’t really focused yet on how the diversity of talent leads to faster implementation. It’s because people change behavior only after they believe in something. It’s not enough to be told to do something or read about it, they have to believe it. The process of coming to believing something is usually one that requires you to think deeply, challenge your assumptions, be confronted by other perspectives, and in my experience, be engaged in deep, authentic, and genuine dialogue in pursuit of solving something. So when the group itself that you’ve brought together co-creates the answers to your question about what it’s going to take to grow your business faster and bigger and better, or what it’s going to double their business in South America or whatever, when they co-create the solutions to that question, they will mobilize much faster. There’s much less of a persuasion campaign and change management that you as a leader have to prosecute when a large group of all the right influencers and contributors have come up with their own solution.
The first step is to make the distinction between complex and complicated, and if you start there, then you’re already on the right track. Because if it’s complicated, you’re going to find an expert who has solved that problem many times before, you’re going to save a ton of time and money by just hiring that individual or that company to do for you what they’ve done for others. If it’s complex, it’s going to be a big mistake to start out by hiring an expert because there really is no expert, it has to be solved with a diversity of talent, which may include that expert but not rely solely on that expert.
To find out more, you can check out the Syntegrity group on LinkedIn. You can go to CrackingComplexity.com, you can also find the book on Amazon. You can read Forbes, we’ve got a good series on Forbes. You can search Komlos on Wall Street Journal or HBR.org or CEO.net and others.