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Author's profile photo Mark Osborn

It’s not that simple. Or is it?

Yesterday I was proof-reading a recent blog post of mine in which I was describing the incredible opportunities and challenges associated with reaching, engaging and serving increasingly connected, social and mobile consumers. As I was reading through my draft I noticed that when I was describing the journey from the current state to future opportunity I frequently used phrases like, “it won’t be as simple as” or “it’s not simply a matter of” along with a few other, similar variations on the word “simple.”

What struck me was that I was using the word simple in almost cautionary terms – cautioning that moving from one environment to another or to one consumer engagement approach to another would require radically different and potentially far more complex strategies, considerations, and tools to make the transition and capitalize on these new opportunities successfully.

But, upon reflection, I wondered if that was, in fact, actually true?  Is “simple” really the opposite of “complex”?  Can something be complex or challenging and yet simple at the same time?

Consider an example most of us face every day – scheduling a meeting with a large group of people.  Twenty years ago, scheduling a meeting for five or more people would have either required everyone to be in the room together to compare their paper-based day planners, or an extensive round of phone calls to all of the proposed participants to identify available time slots, check for alternative options, and then confirm the final meeting date and time with everyone once the final time slot was identified.  Then, you’d have to hope that everyone remembered to write the meeting into their day planner to reserve the time.

Today, the fundamental objective hasn’t changed – we still need to schedule meetings.  However, how we think about and manage the process has fundamentally transformed.  Now we can open up our calendars at our desktop or on our mobile devices, instantly check participant availability and publish a meeting request that immediately and automatically appears on each of the participants’ calendars, synchronized across all of their devices, globally, adjusting for local time zone variations and displaying the meeting information in the participants’ local language.

Which of these examples is simple?  Which is complex?

While the underlying technology required to enable visibility to team members calendars, propose and distribute meeting requests and then synchronize meeting confirmations among all participants calendars and across all of their devices  might be more “complex” than a face-to-face discussion or a phone call, the the end result is a process that’s really and truly “simple.”

Advances in technology have transformed this conceptually simple process into one that’s now actually simple, and in very practical terms.  And what’s more, few would describe the transition from paper and phone-based scheduling to automated, technology-based scheduling as challenging or complex.  As technology advances, it too becomes easier – simpler – to adopt, adapt and leverage to enable true transformation across any number of business processes. Those opportunities to transform enable us to fundamentally reconsider the nature of the process itself, and the outcomes possible from that process.

Not long ago I was talking with some colleagues about the idea that true business transformation will not result from doing the things incrementally better but, rather, from doing things fundamentally differently.  True transformation also requires thinking about the possibilities fundamentally differently, too.  After reflecting about the simplicity-complexity dynamic I alluded to in my blog post yesterday I gained some additional, valuable perspective – that moving from one approach to another, enabled by technology, will actually be “as simple as…”

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