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27 October 2009

Complexity, defined & by design


Computers are complex & growing fast. Moore’s law recognized that the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit was doubling approximately every two years. Our lives are equally complex and growing more so. (Or moreso.) But for us, this experience outpaces the ability of our language & our brains to keep up with it all. Our brain has a limited ability to grow.

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal there was a lovely account of complexity in business. The different types seem applicable to the real life conundrum I’ve just outlined. It will take some time to map concordances between the article’s varieties of complexity in business & the types of complexity found in our lives. In the interest of time-saving, let’s crowdsource this problem. Any ideas people?

All text from the article; all pictures from Barcelona & Berlin

(Note: Any concordance between pictures and texts are partially coincidental.)

DYSFUNCTIONAL: “creeps in…over years through the perpetuation of practices that are no longer relevant, the duplication of activities due to mergers or reorganizations, and ambiguous or conflicting duties.”


DESIGNED: “This is when a company makes complexity part of its business plan… Again, ****’s mass-customized production process is complex by design: **** believes that configuring each product to infividual specs, rather than creating them all the same, makes customers more likely to buy from the company.”


INHERENT: “The difficulty of getting the work done…is inherent complexity. For example, the job of an airline pilot stripped to its bare essential, is highly skilled but not complex: It involves flying a plane safely from A to B. The job of a flight dispatcher, on the other hand, is inherently complex: It involves coordinating with the pilots, the ground staff, the passengers, the caterers, the cleaners, the control tower, and so on, to ensure that the plane leaves on time.”


IMPOSED: “This form of complexity is largely beyond the control of the company. It is shaped by such entities as industry regulators, non-governmental organizations and trade unions.”

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis

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