Manage By Walking Around http://jonathanbecher.com Aligning Execution With Strategy Thu, 18 Sep 2014 23:46:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Blue Juice, Tarmac, and Other Air Travel Slang http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/09/14/air-travel-slang/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/09/14/air-travel-slang/#comments Sun, 14 Sep 2014 21:21:11 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=4448 We’re still sitting on the tarmac… Given how much I travel, I’ve used that phrase countless times over the last several years but never thought much about the word tarmac. It turns out it’s short for tarmacadam, or tar-penetration macadam. Macadam is named for John Loudon McAdam who invented an effective and economical road construction method...

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Cracked TarmacWe’re still sitting on the tarmac…

Given how much I travel, I’ve used that phrase countless times over the last several years but never thought much about the word tarmac. It turns out it’s short for tarmacadam, or tar-penetration macadam.

Macadam is named for John Loudon McAdam who invented an effective and economical road construction method in the early 1800’s based on crushed rock. These roads worked well for horses and carriages but weren’t suitable for higher-speed cars and their rubber tires. The jagged rocks often caused flat tires and, when it rained, roads eroded and became difficult to drive on.

100 years later, Edgar Purnell Hooley improved on the long-standing process by mixing the crushed rock with heated tar and slag. This mixture could form a smooth surface more suitable for cars. Hooley’s patented tarmac quickly became a world-wide standard for roads.

Over time people started to refer to any sort of asphalt or blacktop as tarmac. The term persists, especially for the paved areas at airports, even though the material is rarely used anymore. Ironically, real tarmac isn’t a suitable surface for an airport. Tarmac softens in hot weather which would likely cause a heavy airplane to sink into it.

Having solved the mystery of tarmac, I decided to investigate other unusual words associated with air travel. Here’s what I learned:

APRON: The section of the tarmac that is not a runway or taxiway; this is whether planes park or are serviced.

CONTRAIL: Short for condensation trails, these are the long, thin clouds that form behind aircraft; most often triggered by the water vapor in engine exhaust.

DEADHEADING: A pilot or flight attendant who flies free of charge because they are currently in the wrong city for their next scheduled flight.

IFR: Stands for instrument flight rules, the standard process for flying planes at altitude via electronic instruments when visual clues are not sufficient by themselves.

JUMPSEAT: The fold-up chairs most commonly used by the flight attendants, especially during takeoff and landing. These are officially known as auxiliary crew stations.

Oh, and one more thing. If a mischievous flight attendant offers you a blue juice cocktail, I wouldn’t drink it. Blue juice refers to the lavatory water.

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The Science of Social Selling http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/09/07/science-social-selling/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/09/07/science-social-selling/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 01:49:04 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=4419 Social selling is one of the hottest buzzwords in the technology market. Unfortunately, social selling is usually misunderstood as navigating the sales process using only tools like Twitter, Linkedin, or Facebook. While technology can help, social selling is about building stronger relationships with potential buyers, based on an authentic sense of empathy and a deep...

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Social MediaSocial selling is one of the hottest buzzwords in the technology market. Unfortunately, social selling is usually misunderstood as navigating the sales process using only tools like Twitter, Linkedin, or Facebook. While technology can help, social selling is about building stronger relationships with potential buyers, based on an authentic sense of empathy and a deep understanding of the problems they face.

Even if they don’t use social technology, good salespeople already know that creating a connection with the client is essential for success. In real life (IRL for social types), connections are usually made on some common value or some shared demographic. This is why salespeople spend so much time establishing a personal relationship, not just selling their product.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia have shown that incidental similarities between a buyer and seller are enough to establish a personal connection and increase the likelihood to purchase. Incidental similarities include a wide range of events: a shared first name, birthday or birthplace. In the words of one of the professors:

Those incidental similarities can actually shape the situation in terms of your desire to buy and associate with the product or company, your attitude toward the product. It overflows onto the purchase experience — even though, rationally, it really shouldn’t.

Incidental similarities create a sense of connection even though they are superficial and common. Yes, common. For example, in a group of 23 people, the chance two people have the same birthday is greater than 50%. Many companies already exploit this opportunity:

Employees at Disney theme parks and Hilton Hotels wear name tags emblazoned with their hometowns, the researchers note, and many fitness centres display detailed biographies of their personal trainers, right down to the high school they attended.

Social technology can be used to discover the incidental similarities. So, if a sales rep points out he roots for the same sports team as you do, it’s probably not an accident. And chances are you’ll spend more than you originally expected.

That’s the science of social selling.

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The Unwritten Rules of Management http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/08/31/unwritten-rules-management/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/08/31/unwritten-rules-management/#comments Sun, 31 Aug 2014 21:37:36 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=4401 You can’t polish a sneaker I was 30 mins into an incredibly boring presentation when that phrase caught my attention. It’s catchy, I thought, but what the heck does it mean? A little Internet sleuthing unearthed that the line is from the Unwritten Rules of Management, by William Swanson, former Chairman and CEO of Raytheon. Apparently,...

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Unwritten RulesYou can’t polish a sneaker

I was 30 mins into an incredibly boring presentation when that phrase caught my attention. It’s catchy, I thought, but what the heck does it mean?

A little Internet sleuthing unearthed that the line is from the Unwritten Rules of Management, by William Swanson, former Chairman and CEO of Raytheon. Apparently, when Swanson was growing up, he and his friends tried to polish their old sneakers to make them look new but, no matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t disguise the wear and tear. Translated into business speak: don’t waste effort putting the finishing touches on something that has little substance to begin with.

It’s good advice from a book that contains lots of other useful aphorisms including:

  • Beg for the bad news
  • Don’t be known as a good starter but a poor finisher
  • If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much
  • Treat the name of your company as if it were your own
  • It is easier to get into something than it is to get out of it

In 2005 when these 32 principles first came to light, they were so compelling they were called the CEO’s Secret Handbook. Unfortunately, it was later discovered that many of these were already included in the 1944 book, The Unwritten Laws of Engineering by W. J. King.

Despite the controversy, there’s plenty of useful advice. Some of my favorites include:

  1. Look for what is missing. Many know how to improve what’s there, but few can see what isn’t there.
  2. Practice shows that those who speak the most knowingly and confidently often end up with the assignment to get the job done.
  3. You remember 1/3 of what you read, 1/2 of what people tell you, but 100% of what you feel.
  4. Work for a boss to whom you can tell it like it is. Remember that you can’t pick your relatives, but you can pick your boss.
  5. However menial and trivial your early assignments may appear, give them your best efforts.

If there’s one single piece of advice worth following, it’s this one:

A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter is not a nice person

It’s the most accurate test I know of to determine whether you should hire someone. And a great way to follow the no-asshole rule.

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An Aerospace Engineer’s Guide to Winning Tennis http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/08/17/aerospace-engineers-guide-winning-tennis/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/08/17/aerospace-engineers-guide-winning-tennis/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 04:04:17 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=4372 Simon “Si” Ramo is a remarkable person. Ramo is a world-renowned scientist and engineer. He was the chief architect of the US intercontinental ballistic missile system. He was the ‘R’ in TRW, the multibillion-dollar aerospace company now part of Northrop Grumman. And last year, at the age of 100, he became the oldest person to be...

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Extraordinary TennisSimon “Si” Ramo is a remarkable person.

Ramo is a world-renowned scientist and engineer. He was the chief architect of the US intercontinental ballistic missile system. He was the ‘R’ in TRW, the multibillion-dollar aerospace company now part of Northrop Grumman. And last year, at the age of 100, he became the oldest person to be awarded a patent.

As remarkable as all of that is, his insight into tennis – and perhaps all sports – might be even more remarkable. Ramo authored two books, Tennis By Machiavelli and Extraordinary Tennis Ordinary Players, which showed that tennis is played completely differently by professionals and amateurs. Of course, both types of players use the same rules and scoring. Sometimes they even use the same equipment. However, there is a fundamental difference: professionals win points whereas amateurs lose them.

In a professional game, players – nearly equal in skill – rally the ball back and forth until one of them hits the ball just beyond the reach of the opponent. Rallies are long and it’s literally a game of inches. On the other hand, rallies are short in an amateur game. Many balls are hit into the net or out of bounds. Double faults are more common than aces.

Ramo discovered this effect by ignoring conventional tennis scores (Love, Fifteen All, etc.) and examining individual points. In expert tennis, 80% of points are won while in amateur tennis, 80% are lost. Charles Ellis, the renowned investment consultant, explained that avoiding mistakes is the way to win a “Loser’s Game” – in amateur tennis and investing. The professional game is generally determined by the actions of the winner and the amateur game by the actions of the loser.

As an amateur, once you know this insight, your strategy is clear. Be conservative and keep the ball in play. Don’t try to win points. Let your opponent lose them. Since he’s an amateur, your opponent will play a losing game and not know it.

As Ramo said, “tennis players, as they slow down, must smarten up.”

 

 

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Vision vs. Mission http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/08/11/vision-vs-mission/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/08/11/vision-vs-mission/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 03:25:56 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=4347 “Your mission, should you choose to accept it.” It’s been nearly 25 years but I still vividly remember those words from the television show Mission Impossible. At the time, I didn’t realize it was a remake of the original show which aired 25 years before that. I also didn’t realize the two series might have...

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Mission Impossible“Your mission, should you choose to accept it.”

It’s been nearly 25 years but I still vividly remember those words from the television show Mission Impossible. At the time, I didn’t realize it was a remake of the original show which aired 25 years before that. I also didn’t realize the two series might have contributed to the long-standing confusion on what a mission is.

People are constantly interchanging the words mission and vision, as if they are the same thing. When I point this out to them, I’m often told I’m being too pedantic. I disagree – words matter.

A vision statement is the summary of how an organization would like to be perceived in the future. It should be written from an outside-in external perspective so that it attracts people who do not work for the organization, not just employees. As such, it should be stated in ‘visionary’ colorful terms.

Consider the vision statement for CVS Caremark:

We strive to improve the quality of human life

It’s simple and inspirational. However, I prefer vision statements that are differentiated and not easily claimed by other organizations. This one could work for a hospital as well.

Despite what I learned from the TV show, the mission statement explains why an organization exists, usually from an internal perspective. It often describes the financial or customer results the organization wants to achieve over the mid-to-long term. An organization’s strategic objectives should be tied directly to the mission so that it guides day-to-day operations and decision-making. Good mission statements improve alignment.

Coming back to CVS Caremark:

Above all else… our mission is to improve the lives of those we serve by making innovative and high-quality health and pharmacy services safe, affordable, and easy to access.

Personally, I’m struck by the phrase “above all else.” It’s powerful. In fact, the entire mission statement reinforces a focus on patient needs much more clearly than just saying customer-centric. Some people might quibble it’s not specific enough but that issue can be handled through corporate strategic objectives.

Vision, mission, values, and strategy. I believe careful definition of each of these items matter. However, I haven’t seen any quantitative research that proves it one way or another.

So, readers, do you know of any concrete evidence? It’s your mission – should you choose to accept it.

 

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It’s Hard To Ask Good Questions http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/07/20/hard-to-ask-good-questions/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/07/20/hard-to-ask-good-questions/#comments Sun, 20 Jul 2014 18:51:55 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=4288 It’s amazingly hard to ask good questions. I’ve been in investigative mode over the last month; trying to understand the root cause of a performance issue and also designing a potential new business model. Both projects mean I’ve had to ask a lot of questions. And they also mean I have had to remind myself...

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QuestionsIt’s amazingly hard to ask good questions.

I’ve been in investigative mode over the last month; trying to understand the root cause of a performance issue and also designing a potential new business model. Both projects mean I’ve had to ask a lot of questions. And they also mean I have had to remind myself how to ask questions.

In my experience, the key to asking a good question is to know why you are asking the question. When people ask questions, they do so for one of three reasons:

  • They want a well-reasoned point of view
  • They want an opinion from an expert
  • They want a factually correct answer

That’s right; people don’t always want a factual answer to their questions.

As a result, asking a well-formed question is incredibly important – especially if the answer is a point of view or an opinion. Unfortunately, people usually ask questions which are unintentionally vague. Vague questions produce vague answers.

I had been looking for a memorable way to make the point about ambiguous questions when I re-watched the movie Die Hard with a Vengeance on a recent plane flight. The villain gives the good guys thirty seconds to telephone him on the number “555 plus the answer” or else a bomb will detonate.

The question is the well-known nursery rhyme:

As I was going to St. Ives,
I met a man with seven wives,
Each wife had seven sacks,
Each sack had seven cats,
Each cat had seven kits:
Kits, cats, sacks, and wives,
How many were there going to St. Ives?

Most people try to multiply the sevens to get to the answer. But, if you look closer, the passage never says the group is travelling to St. Ives. So the answer should be one: the narrator.

But wait. We don’t know if the narrator is traveling alone so perhaps a better answer is at least one.

On the other hand, a plausible answer is zero. The last two lines of the riddle state “kits, cats, sacks, wives … were going to St. Ives?” The narrator isn’t a kits cat, sack, or wife, so shouldn’t count as part of the answer.

Since the nursery rhyme is supposed to be a riddle, it’s intentionally vague. But it makes the point. There is no factually correct answer so you can only have a well-reasoned point of view.

Ask better questions. Or as the French philosopher Voltaire said,

Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.

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The 9 Habits to Stop Now http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/07/13/9-habits-stop-now/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/07/13/9-habits-stop-now/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 04:27:25 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=4271 What you don’t do determines what you can do. Tim Ferriss, author of the cult hit and international best-seller ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’, makes that observation in a podcast last month. I completely agree. In my 2009 post on Prioritization, I note: Prioritization is as much about what we choose not to do as what we...

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NOT-To-DoWhat you don’t do determines what you can do.

Tim Ferriss, author of the cult hit and international best-seller ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’, makes that observation in a podcast last month. I completely agree. In my 2009 post on Prioritization, I note:

Prioritization is as much about what we choose not to do as what we do… In most organizations, priority is given to projects with the most political capital or those that are the furthest behind schedule, rather than to projects with the highest impact.

Even though research has shown creating a to-do list will make you more effective, Ferriss argues that “not-to-do” lists can be an even better method for improving performance. Here are the 9 habits he suggests we eliminate to free up time for more important activities:

  1. Do not answer phone calls from people you don’t know
  2. Do not e-mail first thing in the morning or last thing at night
  3. Do not agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda or end time
  4. Do not let people ramble: “Small talk takes up big time.”
  5. Do not check email constantly
  6. Do not over-communicate with low profit, high maintenance customers
  7. Do not work more to fix being too busy
  8. Do not carry a cellphone or Crackberry 24/7
  9. Do not expect work to fill a void that non-work relationships and activities should

No matter how much time you invest, there’s always more to do. As far back as 1955, Parkinson noted in The Economist that work expands to the amount of time you give it. Or as Warren Buffet has said:

The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.

Prioritize so you can spend less time on work and yet accomplish more things that are important.

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Three Ways that Simplicity Pays http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/07/11/three-ways-simplicity-pays/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/07/11/three-ways-simplicity-pays/#comments Fri, 11 Jul 2014 15:16:52 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=4266 Remember ‘keep it simple, stupid’? Even though it has been a popular mantra since 1960, simplicity is a hot topic these days. In my previous blog, Is Complex Better than Complicated?, I wrote about two Zen of Python’s 20 design principles: Simple is better than complex. Complex is better than complicated. Ultimately, simple is what we are...

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Remember ‘keep it simple, stupid’?

Even though it has been a popular mantra since 1960, simplicity is a hot topic these days. In my previous blog, Is Complex Better than Complicated?I wrote about two Zen of Python’s 20 design principles:

  • Simple is better than complex.
  • Complex is better than complicated.

Ultimately, simple is what we are all striving for both in life and in business.

In our personal lives, scientific studies show a connection between simplicity and pleasure. Humans may be conditioned to seek simplicity and avoid complexity.

In business, the reason is even simpler. Simplicity pays.

Here are three specific ways simplicity can have a positive influence on your bottom line, your customers’ experiences, and employee engagement.

1. Revenue

Strategic branding firm Siegel + Gale, whose tagline is “simple is smart,” surveyed more than 10,000 consumers in seven countries as part of its 2013 Global Brand Simplicity Index. The firm asked consumers several questions about the simplicity/complexity of a brand in relation to its peers. The study yielded important insights such as:

  • 75% of consumers are more likely to recommend a brand if it offers a simpler experience
  • 100% of S+G’s simplicity portfolio brands have beaten the average global stock index since 2009

In a similar study called Decision Simplicity, the Corporate Executive Board found brands that simplify customer decision making are 115% more likely to be recommended and 86% more likely to be purchased. As I’ve blogged before, simplicity helps consumers avoiddecision quicksand.

Simplicity impacts both the top and bottom line.

2. Customer Experience

If your business wants to walk the customer experience talk, leadership must do more than write a new mission statement.

For many customers, the relationship with your company begins on your website. According to research by Internet marketing blog Conversion XL, simple websites arescientifically better than complex ones. This is because the human brain “decodes, stores and processes information” more quickly and efficiently when the information is presented simply.

A simple website means happier customers and higher conversion rates.

User experience research firm Change Sciences analyzed the usability, engagement, and conversion of 15 bank websites for the “Consumer Bank Web Site User Experience 2013”study. Three findings:

  • Consumers are 17% less happy when interacting on bank sites compared with experiences on other types of sites
  • Consumers are 22% less likely to convert on bank sites than on other sites
  • Bank websites are 25% less usable than e-commerce sites like Amazon and Walmart

Being empathetic to customers means providing a clean, consistent, and simple experience for customers not only online, but at every touch point.

3. Employee Engagement

Like your customers, your employees are also on a journey. Unfortunately the reality isonly 13% of employees feel engaged at work. Research by Warwick University shows happy employees are more engaged with their work. And according to the Harvard Business Review, engaged employees contribute to less turnover, fewer safety incidents, and fewer quality incidents. Disengaged employees cost U.S. employers between $450 and $550 billion dollars per year in lost productivity.

So how do businesses make their employees happy? Science has shown simplicity can lead to pleasure and happiness. Providing a simple employee experience may be the critical ingredient many businesses and employers miss.

In February, I wrote about a Google hangout between myself and Gary Hamel, president of the Management Innovation eXchange (MIX). Last month, the MIX announced the winners of the Unlimited Human Potential Challenge, designed to discover bold and innovative ideas to unleash the power of people in the workplace. Each of the winning ideas offers a unique approach to simplifying the employee experience.

Brazilian software company VAGAS, for instance, won the M-Prize for its unique horizontal management. At VAGAS, there is no hierarchy and no command structure – employees are free to pursue the organization’s strategy autonomously. At VAGAS, simplicity means putting zero barriers between the employee and the organization’s goals.

Klick Health, the world’s largest independent digital health agency, won the M-Prize for Genome, its transformative operating system. Genome harnesses big data and social technology to create personalized experiences for each of its 400 employees. Employees “log into Genome at the start of their workday and use it for workflow, goal-setting, administrative and reporting tasks, training and more.” At Klick Health, simplicity means creating personalized workflows and experiences for employees.

VAGAS and Klick Health are among the forward-looking companies that are delivering simple experiences to their employees, to everyone’s benefit.

Revenue, customer and employee engagement – how does simplicity pay in your business?

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn on July 7, 2014.

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Douglas Adams’ Technology Rules http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/06/30/douglas-adams-technology-rules/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/06/30/douglas-adams-technology-rules/#comments Tue, 01 Jul 2014 04:15:47 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=4241 We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works. This is a fantastic quote from Douglas Adams, best known as the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the answer to life, the universe and everything. This specific quote appears in another book, The Salmon of Doubt,...

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We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.

Douglas AdamsThis is a fantastic quote from Douglas Adams, best known as the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the answer to life, the universe and everything. This specific quote appears in another book, The Salmon of Doubt, which was published after his death and is based on multiple articles by him on the subject of technology.

While you might not think of Adams as a technologist, he has a fair amount of street cred. According to various sources:

  • Adams used e-mail extensively long before it reached popular awareness
  • He started using a word processor in 1982
  • Adams created his own USENET newsgroup (alt.fan.douglas-adams) in 1983
  • In 1984 he was the first person to buy a Macintosh in Europe

The Salmon of Doubt also includes an essay called ‘How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet’ which first appeared in the News Review section of The Sunday Times in August 1999. In the essay Adams suggests a set of rules which describe our relationship to technology:

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

Apply this list to movies, rock music, word processors and mobile phones to work out how old you are.

Take social media, for example. Social media is about a decade old and, based on the above generalization, would be less prevalent with those who are 45 and older. That seems about right to me – what do you think?

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Is Complex Better Than Complicated? http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/06/26/complex-better-complicated/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/06/26/complex-better-complicated/#comments Thu, 26 Jun 2014 18:40:57 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=4217 Unless you have a software background, you’ve probably never heard of longtime Pythoncoder Tim Peters. In Zen of Python, he suggests 20 design principles including: Simple is better than complex. Complex is better than complicated. How is “complex” better than “complicated”? After all, their dictionary definitions are similar and they are listed synonyms in the thesaurus: Complex – adj. not...

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Unless you have a software background, you’ve probably never heard of longtime Pythoncoder Tim Peters. In Zen of Python, he suggests 20 design principles including:

  • Simple is better than complex.
  • Complex is better than complicated.

How is “complex” better than “complicated”? After all, their dictionary definitions are similar and they are listed synonyms in the thesaurus:

  • Complex – adj. not easy to understand or explain: not simple
  • Complicated – adj. hard to understand, explain, or deal with

Since I love writing about words and word origins, I decided to dig deeper into the distinction between the two.

Education reformer Larry Cuban writes that complicated systems “assume expert and rational leaders, top-down planning, smooth implementation of policies, and a clock-like organization that runs smoothly.” Complex systems “are filled with hundreds of moving parts, scores of players of varied expertise and independence…missing a ‘mission control’ that runs all these different parts.”

Roberto Poli, Research Professor at the University of Trento, Italy, wrote a similar analysis for The Cadmus Journal.

Complicated problems originate from causes that can be individually distinguished; they can be addressed piece-by-piece; for each input to the system there is a proportionate output; the relevant systems can be controlled and the problems they present admit permanent solutions. On the other hand, complex problems and systems result from networks of multiple interacting causes that cannot be individually distinguished; must be addressed as entire systems, that is they cannot be addressed in a piecemeal way.

Using Cuban’s and Poli’s definition, we can come up with some examples:

  • Brain surgery? Complicated.
  • Election and campaign reform? Complex.
  • Designing and implementing an underground tunnel system? Complicated.
  • Lowering the incidence of drug use in a low-income community? Complex.

This makes intuitive sense. However, from Cuban’s and Poli’s perspectives, complex isn’tnecessarily better than complicated. In a complex system, there’s no central “mission control” to manage the moving parts, making the process more difficult.

I kept looking for definitions that would validate the Zen of Python. According to the Stack Exchange:

Complexity is intrinsic. Something is complex if it involves a lot of [metaphorical] moving parts even when considered as a Platonic ideal. Complication is extrinsic. Something is complicated by external influences, or because of external influences.

Pedantically, something can be complex without being complicated, or complex because it is complicated. (Things are rarely complicated without also being complex.) Using this Stack Exchanges definition, we go back to our examples:

  • Brain surgery? Complex.
  • Election and campaign reform? Complicated.
  • Designing and implementing an underground tunnel system? Complex.
  • Lowering the incidence of drug use in a low-income community? Complicated.

The extrinsic forces which complicate a system are inherently harder to manage than the intrinsic ones. Extrinsic forces cannot be centrally controlled. Brain surgery, for example, is complex because it is intrinsically difficult. It would seem a skilled surgeon would find less difficulty performing brain surgery than a skilled policy-maker trying to reform elections. The extrinsic forces make the system or process much more complicated. By this definition, complex is better than complicated.

Words have immense power to change concepts and clarify conversations. However, this seems to be a situation where there isn’t clarity. Understanding if complex is better than complicated seems to be a complex question.

Or do I mean complicated?

This story originally appeared on LinkedIn on June 12, 2014.

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