Simplifying the Complex

In a nutshell, the impact of the COVID virus on business (and beyond) is multi-layered and complex. Nothing is black and white, it’s incredibly unclear. Unclear because data and information typically used to make decisions are changing daily, regulations vary – sometimes by product – from state to state and country to country because there is no clear end to the uncertainty, and many suggestions are viewed as personal choices instead of coherent guidelines. Like I said, things are anything but black and white right now.

This time of uncertainty makes us all desire clarity. I was recently on the phone with a client who oversees a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility. As they laid out their course of options across their broad range of responsibilities, they broke their thought process into two buckets:

  1. Change something
  2. Change nothing and stay the same

The client was approaching things with a very black and white perspective. The fact is, their reality is more complex than that, but that doesn’t mean their way of thinking is completely off course. Sometimes the best way to handle the most complicated and unclear challenges is to break things down and determine your plan of attack one step at a time – to try to make it as black and white as feasibly possible.

As I worked with my client through the challenges specific to pharma production, I found it interesting how many decisions were independent of product function. In fact, regardless of industry, those occupying the intersection of strategy and operations are dealing with very similar challenges and could use assistance in creating strategies to mitigate the uncertainty created by the COVID crisis.

4 Tips to Help You Make the Complex Simple

I decided to start a list – a lens, really – for how to think about challenges at the intersection of strategy and operations. Specifically, about how to make the complicated a little more simple.

  1. Strategically, create options. Whether your marketplace is being changed by global forces, your customers are buying differently, or your products and services are becoming less important, the bottom line is, conditions have unexpectedly changed. The important thing to do now is to observe the changes happening in the market and make the appropriate shifts. Being agile is imperative, as companies that create the best options for their customers will prevail.
  2. But, operationally, shrink options. Your purpose, your raison d’etre, has never been so important. Staying true to your core will help declutter the chaos. In operations, focus on following your standard operating procedures now more than ever. Retrain the basics. Your people are distracted with the state of the world, but they don’t have to be distracted at work.
  3. Strategically, listen to global authorities. Watch what’s happening in Germany, Italy, and China. It’s important to gather all those indicators that may represent implications for the world outside your door. If your marketplace is feeling cold, maybe things are changing differently someplace else in a way that may be creating opportunity. Listen, and read. A lot.
  4. But, operationally, listen to local authorities. We’re being told the economy will thaw and to stay home. So stay home, but also keep operations running (flawlessly, that is). To endure this chaos, stay focused on the authorities and the guidance that matters to you and your operations. Let the world chatter, but focus on the guidance impacting you and your people.

Feeling disrupted? Tired of holding opposing thoughts because they may both be true? Feeling overwhelmed by the complex obstacles in front of you? You’re not alone. The best option is to stay focused on what you can control and the things that matter most. Start with your purpose. And be sure to break things down. Sometimes complex problems can be very hard to tackle, so try to see through the details and view the core issue at hand. Don’t let the uncertainty of today’s crisis derail you from planning for tomorrow. Thinking about things a bit more simplistically might be just what you need to start planning the solution.


May 26, 2020


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