The Thief of Time: Complexity
By John L. Mariotti
Time. Nobody has enough of it. Everyone
wishes they could have more. It flies by, and once gone, can never
be recovered. It is the one truly perishable resource. The
workdays fill up and overflow. Other commitments close in and
personal time goes away. Those who suffer from this are truly
victims of the Thief of Time – complexity – which afflicts every
person in every organization.
Complexity adds to the list of unread
e-mails, unheard voicemails, interminable meetings and mountains of
minutiae. It’s time to apprehend this Thief of Time, and stop its
relentless damage. To stop it, you must first understand how
complexity strikes and where it comes from.
of the complexity accumulates due to the fact that we are part of
the information age. Another large source of complexity is the
pursuit of high growth in low growth markets. The continuous
pressure for growth leads to proliferation of customers, products,
markets, and so forth. This proliferation, while done with the best
of intentions, leads to even greater floods of information.
How can you stop complexity … this Thief
of Time? The answer is deal with the two places where the thief
steals time and money.
Growth By Proliferation:
First let’s address how companies seeking
growth drown themselves in self-induced complexity. Most developed
markets are growing slowly, and companies commonly make the mistake
of chasing growth at higher than market growth rates by
proliferating products, customers, markets, locations and
facilities. This problem grows because none of today’s “accounting”
systems properly “account” for where and how complexity is “hiding,”
while it is “stealing” time and money. Thieves are sneaky, and this
one is no exception. It hides in accounts where there is clutter
such as variances, allowances and deductions, obsolescence,
administrative overhead, and so forth.
At the end of the month, the quarter or
the year, the time is gone forever, and most of the profits are
gone, too. The thief has struck again, yet nary a trace of evidence
remains as to what happened. What steps can you take? Here are five
Prioritize: Do what’s most important, first. Choose what “not
to do” and make time for what must be done.
Focus on those tasks that make big differences. Devote the
resources to get them done.
Sort & Simplify: Sort products and customers, sales and profits
in order of descending annual value, and then simplify by cutting
the losers at the bottom that add cost but no profit. Increase
attention to the winners at the top; then either promote and
cultivate – or demote and drop – what’s left in the middle.
Find It; Fix It; Use It or Lose It: Seek out complexity in all
its usual hiding places and either get rid of it, or restructure
your processes to turn complexity into a competitive advantage.
Keep the Thief Out: Devise new ways (and metrics) to track and
detect complexity when it is creeping back, as it certainly will.
Drowning in Data—Protecting What’s
Proprietary: This thief is so
much more troubling now than in the past because of data overload,
drowning everyone in work, and inundating them with too much
information. Much of it was neither asked for, nor wanted and
there’s no time to process or use it.
In the past, economists classified wealth
in terms of exclusive rights to land, labor and capital. Not any
more. Now wealth is knowledge and knowledge is derived from
information; yet information cannot be easily controlled, and seldom
belongs exclusively to anyone. Because information can be shared
freely, the “wealth” that might be derived from it is lost because
so many have access to it.
How can the Thief of Time be stopped in
this complex new information era? How can the exclusivity of data
and information be protected without adding more complexity? First,
maintain appropriate secrecy and privacy practices, which can keep
information out of the public domain and out of the hands of
competitors—at least temporarily. Use intellectual property laws to
add another layer of protection. Apply modern data security
solutions to further thwart the thief and eliminate two of the
greatest sources of information complexity; overuse/abuse of
non-secure communications and illicit practices such as spam,
hacking, phishing, and social engineering.
Here’s several more ways to thwart the
thief, to manage the overuse/abuse, to inhibit the illicit
practices, and to protect your information’s security and
Stop using the “reply to all”
selection on e-mail. This cuts down the flood of e-mail, and
stops the embarrassing or damaging ones from going to an
unintended recipient. It also reduces the likelihood of
confidential information leaks by inadvertent e-mail
Insist that voicemails begin with the
topic, the intent and the action desired. Then limit voicemail
boxes to 20 seconds duration. People will leave shorter messages
after being cut off a few times.
Clean out those mailboxes
regularly—and avoid ill-advised e-mails and voicemails on
sensitive matters. Those can become “smoking guns” in legal
Once these distractions – which act as the
thief’s “cover” – have been addressed, then protecting valuable
information comes next:
Protect IT systems privacy and
security using the best available tools: encryption, firewalls,
spam filters, backup systems, etc. Some hackers are very
creative, some “vandals” and some steal information for profit.
Learn the favorite tricks used in “phishing” and “social
engineering” and alert employees as to how these tricks are
used. They steal both your precious information and your
precious time, while adding enormous complexity to your
Develop a well-conceived Intellectual
Property protection system and the processes to support it.
This includes what kind of information to keep confidential and
how to do that. It also includes training in appropriate
behaviors at trade shows and in public places, where overheard
conversations can result in critical information leaks.
There you have it; two straightforward
approaches to deal with and apprehend that Thief of
Time—Complexity. One requires prioritization and focus, the other
is preventative and protective—a series of virtual locks that keep
out thieves and complexity.
Now it’s up to you – and the management of
your company – to keep the thief out. The beauty of driving out
complexity and safeguarding your information is it frees you to
devote your time to innovation; new products, improved value and
better customer service, which will make you more effective, and
your company more profitable. And in the game of business, profit
is how the score is kept …and winning is a lot more fun than chasing
complexity and its problems.
Read other articles and learn more about
John L. Mariotti.
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