Yves Morieux: Cooperation is a multiplier of human intelligence
To navigate a complex world, we need smart solutions. To be present in the future, we must stop living in the past.
Leonardo da Vinci used to say that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. Yves Morieux has created 6 simple rules to help companies manage complexity for competitive advantage. His approach, Smart Simplicity®, is summarized in his TED Talks totalling over 5 million views, As work gets more complex, 6 rules to simplify and How too many rules at work keep you from getting things done, and is detailed in his book, Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity without Getting Complicated.
Yves Morieux specializes in corporate transformation, runs the BCG Institute for Organization, and has worked with executive directors and management teams in more than 500 renowned organizations worldwide. He was a keynote speaker at the HR SmART Conference, conducted by HR Club on October 30th.
We spoke to Yves Morieux about complexity, cooperation, and how to make full use of people’s intelligence.
What thrills you, today?
To help companies avoid mistakes that have two disastrous consequences. The first one is that these mistakes destroy performance (whether we call it productivity, quality, speed). The second one is that they make people suffer and feel guilty, because we end up blaming people for these mistakes – we blame their skills, their personality their resilience, their energy, even their intelligence. So, in doing so, we add injustice to ineffectiveness. It is necessary that we try and avoid these mistakes in organizations.
Complexity is challenging. But it also serves us – on individual and organizational level. How?
Complexity is always a good thing.
First, if you solve complexity, you create more value. When we solve complexity, we usually break a compromise – between cost and quality, between speed and reliability. Whenever we break a compromise it unleashes new value. And this new value will fuel profitable growth.
The other good thing about complexity is that it uses people’s intelligence. Some organizations are able to expose their people to complexity. That is good, because people can then use their intelligence, their judgment, their adaptability to create value. But in most cases companies don’t expose their people to complexity, they expose their people to complicatedness – which means that people then use their intelligence not to solve important problems, not to find value-creating solutions, but to hide, to find excuses, to avoid judgment, accountability, personal risk-taking. Instead of using their intelligence, they try to protect themselves.
Solving complex problems creates value.
Complexity uses people’s intelligence.
Is there a key people can use to simplify the complex?
Complexity and complicatedness are very different. Complexity is about problems whose resolution creates value. Complicatedness is the self-inflicted and counter-productive labyrinth of structures, processes, rules, systems etc. You can and should get rid of complicatedness.
But we cannot simplify the complex. For instance, one attempt to simplify complexity is populism – by using protectionism, by building walls, barriers, trade protection, by leaving alliances, removing interdependencies – but complexity will always come back, one way or another. Complexity always comes back. We cannot ignore complexity. This is why I call my method smart simplicity not simplicity.
We must not be simplistic. The real goal is not simplification. The real goal is to better manage complexity by better using people’s intelligence. While we cannot remove complexity, what we can do is expose people to complexity, as much as possible – maximize the surface between people’s brains and the complexity of the issues. To do that, we have to remove complicatedness, which stands in the way between complexity and intelligence, thus corrupting intelligence and using it in dead-ends, in the wrong direction – such as finding excuses, protecting ourselves, building buffers, sand-bagging, safety nets.
The real goal is not simplification.
The real goal is to better manage complexity
by better using people’s intelligence.
I loved the book The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life, by David Brooks. He talks about our illusion of independence and the need for a declaration of interdependence. What do you think stands at the root of our illusion of independence and self-sufficiency? What is the danger in too much independence and self-sufficiency?
The danger in independence is in the confusion we make: we are deceived by our admiration for accountability.
We assume that to be accountable, to be responsible people must be able to do things without being dependent on others – because when they start depending on others, they are not totally accountable, they are not totally responsible. Thus, in our elusive attempt to create pseudo-accountability, responsibility, we foster independence. So, we love independence because we have a simplistic understanding of accountability, of responsibility.
This is very dangerous, because every achievement requires cooperation. There is nothing great on Earth that can be achieved without the help, the support, the complementarity of others.
The elusive search for accountability creates this elusive notion of control, self-sufficiency, independence, which kills cooperation. In my view, this is why independence is so seductive, this is why it looks so good: because we equate independence with autonomy, with accountability, with responsibility.
Every achievement requires cooperation.
There is nothing great on Earth that can be achieved
without the help, the support, the complementarity of others.
Cooperation is a multiplier of human intelligence. What is particularly dangerous and detrimental about independence is that whenever there is independence and self-sufficiency we waste the opportunity to multiply human intelligence through cooperation. We waste the opportunity to multiply adaptability, problem-solving, speed, creativity. So, I agree, I like the idea of a Declaration of Interdependence.
How does interdependence empower us? How are we stronger for being interdependent?
We are stronger for being interdependent, this is what we are observing every day in every company. The most direct and safest way to create cooperation is to make sure people are not self-sufficient.
There are some companies in the world that make sure that, whenever a project is launched, there are never enough resources to complete the project (such as funding, budget etc.). This is done on purpose, they create an imbalance between the goal of the project and the resources of the project, to make sure people are not self-sufficient and will have to reach out to others. This we hate, because as soon as we reach out to each other, we become dependent on people we don’t fully control, which creates anxiety, and a feeling of lack of security. But the outcome is always better – because you are challenged, because you have to improve, because the others can contribute, if there is cooperation.
Could it be that cooperation also increases human connection, and people feel more engaged and more satisfied at work?
Yes, what is good for performance in terms of cooperation is that due to cooperation you have synergies, you have complementarity.
Yes, on some level you do create some stress, because you become dependent on people you don’t fully control – but, as we know, stress is ambivalent, it can have positive or negative consequences. If you think about it, the happiest events in our life are always stressful. So stress is not the issue.
Whenever there is independence you waste the opportunity
to multiply human intelligence through cooperation.
On the other hand, cooperation does have a positive impact on feelings: due to cooperation, we have access to superior results, which would be out of reach for individuals. For instance, when a team wins a gold medal, normally not all of the team members would have been able to win that gold medal on their own. So, through cooperation, you can increase your performance and you can take ownership of superior results that you wouldn’t be able to reach individually.
When the French team won the Football World Cup – in 2018, in 1998 – these people considered themselves to be the best players in the world. Of course, a real football fan knows these are not the best players in the world, but by becoming the best team they can take ownership, they can tell their friends and children they are one of the 11 or 22 best players in the world. People take ownership of superior results granted by cooperation, which increases satisfaction and engagement.
In your book, Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity without Getting Complicated, you state how important integration is for cooperation. Please elaborate.
To create cooperation, the role of the integrator is very important. The integrator is an actor with the power and interest to foster cooperation among the team members. I believe integration is a driver of cooperation.
Integration is a driver of cooperation.
I differentiate between cooperation, coordination and collaboration.
Coordination is the hard approach, which means clear rules, clear action plan, and you ordinate the sequence and the importance. To coordinate, you need to know the sequence, the allocation of roles in advance. However, increasingly, this pre-knowledge is elusive – you cannot fully coordinate in a complex world – so you need cooperation, which is focused on outcomes, because it means sharing an outcome. It is a result-oriented approach.
Collaboration is a soft approach, as it means taking care of the relationships among the people who work side by side. Collaboration is focused on feelings.
Coordination is nice, when it is possible, but it is increasingly buffered by the new complexity of the world, which increases the need for cooperation.
The fourth rule you mention in your book is to increase reciprocity, and make sure people use their autonomy. You indicate rich objectives as a way to ensure reciprocity. What are rich objectives, please elaborate.
A rich objective has three components:
1.Output – this is the target. This output is usually collective, because a meaningful product or deliverable is the result of a teamwork. This output is goal no. 1. You can measure the speed to market, the productivity of the team, the cost of the product etc. In a race, these are the forerunners.
2.Input – this is individual, and it also measurable. In a race, this is about you, running as fast as you can.
3.The overlap objective – this is not measurable, and it’s neither an input, nor an output. In a race, this is about passing the baton to the next runner in the most effective way, and taking the baton from the previous runner in the most effective way.
These three elements together are what I call a rich objective. It’s important to know that part of the achievement cannot be measured – this is why the role of the management is so important, because it takes judgment to observe.
How can people no longer make the mistake of applying the old methods and principles to the new ways of doing things? What does it take to be more aware, more present and act more consciously? What values will take us into the future? How do we change our mindset in order to apply what we learn?
In my view, it all comes down to rule number one in my book: Understand what your people really do. When managers make a decision they should, by themselves, ask themselves: Do I know what is happening in my organization today, that justifies this decision? When I launch this product, when I stop this project, when I create a new job, a new process, when I clarify a rule – have I understood why I do that? It is a solution, but have I really understood the problem?
There is a Woody Allen movie, Take the Money and Run, where someone says: I understand the solution, but can you remind me of the problem? What is the real problem?
Understand what your people really do.
Is there a piece of advice you would like to offer young people?
They should study and read books attentively. A lot of the management mistakes today come from superficial understanding of the management literature. Notably, From Strategy to Structure, by Alfred Chandler. In fact, Alfred Chandler did not mean: “We must move from strategy to structure”. Alfred Chandler is a historian. His was merely a historical observation: “companies move from strategy to structure”, but he never said it is a principle. But we have read this superficially and we have created a principle, which is driving complicatedness today. People move from strategy to structure, and when reality becomes very complex, you end up with a very complicated structure.
Versiunea în limba română a acestui interviu, publicată și în numărul 262/noiembrie 2019 al Revistei CARIERE, o puteți citi aici: Yvex Morieux: Cooperarea este un multiplicator al inteligenței umane.
Foto: Dragoș Constantin