Complexity is a Siren Song
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"Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it's about deliberately choosing to be different.” - Michael Porter
Complexity is a siren song.
It lures us in with the promise of nuance, details, and precision planning. Yet in the tangled mess of hypotheticals, we lose sight of what truly matters.
The truth about strategy is brutally simple:
"Strategy is not about complexity. It's about brutally honest understanding of the situation, ruthless focus on a few things that matter, and persistent consistency in execution."
The difficult part? "Most people can't handle the emotional discomfort that comes with all three.”
We tell ourselves, “It can’t possibly be that straightforward.”
So we add caveats. Consider nuance. Account for uncertainty. Before we know it, simplicity slips through our fingers as we grasp for an illusion of control.
Take Deborah, an analyst up for promotion. For months, she prepared an exhaustive ‘data-driven strategy’ to overhaul her team’s reporting process—replete with fancy diagrams and 147-point action plan.
Yet Ashley, her “less strategic” peer, got the promotion instead. Why?
While Deborah ruminated about hypothetical improvements, Ashley relentlessly focused on two things:
Fixing poor data quality from the Iowa office
Streamlining the weekly reporting cadence
Small wins. Clear priorities. Consistent progress.
No complex strategy decks required.
Deborah confused elaborate planning with meaningful impact.
Think about it like this.
Meaningful strategy stands on three legs:
A brutal assessment of the facts.
Ruthless prioritization of what truly matters.
Persistent follow-through on the vital few priorities.
Miss any leg and the stool topples over.
Most skip straight to complexity, missing the foundation entirely.
If you’re staring into the fog of complexity, ask yourself:
1. Have you honestly confronted the brutal facts?
2. Are you ruthlessly focused on the one or two things that matter most right now?
3. Are you executing your top priorities with persistent consistency?
Questions that are so simple. Answers that are so difficult. But remember, there are no extra points for complexity.
The truth about strategy is unsettling in its simplicity. Honesty. Focus. Execution. Rinse and repeat.
It may lack glamor, but it works. And isn’t that the point after all?