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Author's profile photo David Fowler

Complexity Propels Civilization Towards Unimaginable Innovation and a Better Life for Everyone

Complexity Propels Civilization Towards Unimaginable Innovation and a Better Life for Everyone

Since the dawn of time, mankind has tried to solve a variety of complex problems. As we become more educated about the ways of our world and create new tools and technologies, problems that were once regarded as complex are now thought of as simple. But that doesn’t end the cycle of even more complex challenges heading our way.

As we continue to tackle increasingly complex challenges, how will our future as a society evolve? This week’s episode “Future of Simplifying Complexity: Insight-Driven Innovation” from The Future of Business with Game Changers, a special edition series of SAP Radio, attempts to answer this very question. The panel featured Jason Sprunk, Leader of CRM Services at Rockwell Automation; Jorge Garcia, Senior BI and Data Management Analyst at Technology Evaluation Centers; and Francesco Mari, VP of Custom Development at SAP.

By seeking and blundering, we learn and innovate

Jason Sprunk kicked off the discussion with his own personal thoughts about change. He commented, “The pace of change is mind-boggling. Our ability to cope, adapt, and evolve as a species will likely be challenged.” It’s all about survival as we learn new lessons and build new synapses. At the most basic level, we as humans learn every day what to do – and what not do. And this is still the case no matter what technologies and innovation we have on hand.

But sometimes, an innovation does give us an opportunity to simplify complexity of other matters – even it if it outside of the purpose of solving the initial problem. Sprunk illustrated, “One great example is the simplicity of the Tesla battery design, which is capable of powering the average home for more than three days. Here you have an automaker that is not only looking at making a great-looking, fuel-efficient, high-tech car, but it’s also solving a problem that is considered outside of the realm of its industry. With approximately 40,000 of its cars on the road right now, Tesla already represents 14% of the grid storage in the United States.”

But no matter how cool or innovative a new tool is, it’s important to acknowledge the people who are using it. “Fundamentally, people are the same wherever we go. We want to be happy and healthy and do for our friends and family. And sometimes we forget the people using the tool and technology,” noted Sprunk. The key is to make sure that the people using the tools understand the common mission and are inspired to use it. 

Complexity that works consists of layered modules that work perfectly together

According to Jorge Garcia, the basic ability of humans is to build anything from simple to complex objects. “Adapting and evolving is what humans do. The best way to do this is to take simple things and build on them – even if complexity is the result,” he speculated. Lego toys are a great representation of this principle – each individual block is amazingly simplistic, but very complex and beautiful things are created when they are connected.

However, Garcia does warn that technology alone cannot solve these new complex business challenges. After all, Big Data is just data. Garcia conveyed, “In this new complex business environment, the notion of collective intelligence is becoming a human-machine-human interaction in which new technologies are emerging in all aspects of the business – from its research and development departments to its consumers and customers. It is the emergence of a new information value chain.”

Successful solutions come from not only technology platforms, but from building ecosystems that involve both technology, processes, and human interaction. Garcia suggested, “Building on useful complexity should allow this new business ecosystem to reduce operational layers to streamline the business, enable prediction and earlier reaction, and promote collaboration and collective intelligence.”

For every complex problem, there’s a solution that is clear, simple, and wrong

Francesco Mari continued the conversation by reflecting on the beauty, awe, and richness of complexity. “As we become more and more interconnected and interdependent, complexity becomes more uncomfortable and unpredictable,” he mentioned.

As human beings, we look for a way out when we encounter a complex problem. But sometimes, the end result is worth the struggle. Mari advised, “Identifying and solving the most urgent and complex problems are some of the hallmarks of enlightened leadership. Before you try to simplify a complex problem, you must break it down into individual modules to get a full understanding of the problem. When you understand the problem, you can decide which simplification you want to take. But when you try to cut through complexity too quickly, it can become a dangerous game.”

Mari also articulated that complex problems can sometimes appear to be a Gordian knot. But even problems like this can be resolved – without cheating – with more than one solution. “In 333 BC, Alexander the Great attempted to untie such a knot. When he could not find the end to the knot to unbind it, he sliced it in half with a stroke of his sword to produce the required ends,” he explained. Zeus must have been happy with Alexander’s solution – he did allow Alexander to win a number of battles throughout Asia and later become king.

And who knows? Maybe if you take the time to think through your next encounter with complexity and arrive at a great resolution, you can become king too.

To listen to a replay of this edition of the Future of Business with Game Changers series, presented by SAP Radio, click here.

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