The last two hundred years saw economies and businesses grow from small and local into global and interconnected.The challenges those organizations faced along the way were predominantly “complicated” ones, mostly solved through research, analysis, and subject matter expertise. And, once solved, the solutions were repeatable.
Today by contrast, organizations struggle with challenges that are driven less by scale and scope and more by complexity and speed. Complex problems are unique and difficult to analyze. The solutions to these problems are one of a kind and cannot be copied. Organizations have traditionally used consultants to solve both types of problems.
For complicated-type challenges—those that require expertise to solve and are (to the experts) well understood—the consultant-centric approach has worked best. That is because with a complicated challenge a predictable chain of causation exists that the experts understand, and their solutions address that chain. In configuring a new ERP system, implementing an HR system, creating new sales compensation, or for any other complicated challenge, experts can interview a cross-section of the organization and conduct analyses to then custom fit the same solution they have delivered many times before.
The consultant-centric approach uses a Hub-and-Spoke model: the consulting team (or internal task force) as the hub, collects everything relevant to the problem; and the client’s people as the spokes, provide their perspectives to the consultants.
Complex challenges are completely different. Even the word itself has some useful things to teach.“Complex” first appeared in the English language in the 1650s, meaning "composed of parts." It had evolved from complexus: "surrounding, encompassing." The second half of the word came from plectere: "to weave, braid, entwine."
A more familiar definition, "not easily analyzed," was first recorded in 1715. “Of many parts,” “woven together,” “resisting analysis,” all appropriate descriptions for challenges such as streamlining operations, reforming healthcare, operationalizing a new strategy, transforming a culture, implementing cost cutting and reallocation of funds, accelerating post-merger integration or reimagining a business and financial model.
Such problems have no predictable chain of causation. There are no experts with pre-existing solutions to apply. We do not know—we cannot know—what is going to work and what is not going to work because we are in new territory. With any complex problem, there are too many factors and dynamics at play that haven’t been identified, let alone mastered; and the human dimension of organizational silos, divergent objectives, resistance, and politics only contribute to this complexity. Thus, a solution that worked for one organization will not necessarily work for another, even if their challenges appear similar.
Imagine two pieces of paper. One has a typical connect the dots picture, and the other has a seemingly random collection of dots with no rhyme or reason to them. With the former, the final picture is more or less known and requires only that one follow a precise sequence of steps. Even if the dots are labelled in a complicated way—using mathematical formulae, for example—an expert can quickly decipher the precise sequence.
By contrast, dots randomly strewn across a page are indecipherable, even to experts. The final picture isn’t known ahead of time. No one knows which dots matter and which dots do not: the sequence in which they should be connected, or whether all the necessary dots are there in the first place. Now imagine that the dots are moving. That is the difference between complicated and complex.
With all their moving parts, interdependencies, and human dynamics, complex challenges are “high-variety.”In other words, not just of many things but of many different things. High-variety challenges can only be adequately addressed by high-variety responses. Systems thinkers like to call this “the law of requisite variety.” A wry old joke makes much the same point: “To every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.”
For complex problems, research, interviews and analysis are not enough. Applying the traditional consultant-centric Hub-and-Spoke model is always expensive, and often leaves organizations more deeply embroiled and further from a solution months and, sometimes, years later.
1. Hub-and-Spoke immerses the consultants, not the organizationHub-and-Spoke temporarily immerses the consulting team (the hub) in the organization’s context.Instead, what is really needed is shared learning and understanding across the organization.
2. It is all on the consultantsHub-and-Spoke places the onus on the consulting team to somehow create the solution. When the experts create the solution—instead of informing—the result is a “clinical” solution that cannot be executed.
3. Hub-and-Spoke is slowA traditional consulting team moves interview-by-interview and document-by-document before being in a position to generate preliminary recommendations. It must then move step-by-step to reach, and justify, a set of recommended options. The cost of being slow is a function of the value that gets delayed:Growth? Post-merger integration? A product launch? Productivity?
4. With the Hub-and-Spoke model, change management is an after thoughtThe people involved are not “changed” by having been interviewed. The model inherently leaves engagement and mobilization—absolute prerequisites to the successful implementation of any solution—entirely out of the equation until late in the process. The cost of not having these forces at work from the outset is the persuasion campaign that must follow, and the organizational resistance that slows things down and produces repeated starts and stops.
These disadvantages were problematic enough before. Today, they are likely to be the critical factors leading to project failure. Organizations no longer have the luxury of taking months to develop recommendations, followed by months of mobilization and implementation. Business situations and market dynamics change too quickly for that.
To mount an effective response to a high-variety challenge, it is essential to handpick and convene all the right players, the “requisite variety” of people who, in aggregate, can accurately represent what is really going on, co-create a solution, and mobilize execution.
This is the potential of “many-to-many.” Many people interacting with each other, altogether, all at once. But simply bringing all the right players together is not enough. Achieving requisite variety in response to a complex challenge typically implies a gathering of a few dozen people, and getting the best thinking out of such a large group is not easy. Anyone who has ever sat at a full boardroom table trying to decide something important will have experienced this. There is no conversation. There is very little listening. There is speech-making, texting, eye-rolling, and perhaps some interaction among seven or eight keenly-interested people.
Group dynamics, left unaddressed, will foreclose all the gains that might have been expected from achieving the requisite variety.
These large-group dynamics have traditionally been avoided by making a small group decision and then cascading the decision down (the old one-to-many model), or by assigning a consultant to methodically tap the group’s wisdom on a piecemeal basis (the traditional Hub-and-Spoke, or many-to-one, approach). Neither is adequate for complex challenges: the first approach effectively ignores the group and its knowledge, while the second is far too slow and leaves people unmoved.
Many-to-many is the only effective and rapid way to respond to complexity. Making it work is the rub.
Syntegration® makes it work. Syntegration is Syntegrity’s business orchestration platform—the break through, science-based algorithm for mobilizing large groups, deepening relationships and, most importantly, rapidly solving complex challenges. Syntegration streamlines large group interaction in ways that mobilize combined talent, moving it from individual contributions, to collaboration, to collective results, to a clearly defined action plan with sustained momentum.
Combining insights from geometry, neurology and cybernetics with advanced mathematical models and social-technologies, Syntegration enables organizations to quickly optimize large group interaction, consolidate thinking, and formulate solutions in dramatically compressed timeframes. Syntegration is delivered in a face-to-face setting over the course of two to three days.
Underpinning Syntegration is a highly sophisticated algorithm based on the properties of spacial geometry and polyhedral constructs: with no hierarchy, no top, no bottom and no sideways, these architectures are ideal for quickly sharing knowledge, building consensus and resolving challenges through the combined intellect and creativity of large groups of people.
In practice, Syntegration applies many principles of cybernetics: feedback, an iterative procedure, real-time information, redundancy, recursivity, information completeness, self-regulation, and more.
While elegant and sophisticated in its design, Syntegration is engineered to be as simple as possible, while at the same time unlocking a high degree of variety to match the complexity of the challenge. For the participants, Syntegration is an exciting and transformative experience that leads to robust solutions with strong consensus and alignment.
Syntegration tells the participants when they have to discuss what, where, and in what role. Everything else happens by itself—it’s a product of the structure. The participants feel the well-regulated and systematic flow of information, they note how the topics, controlled as if by unseen hands, become increasingly coordinated and join together to form a logical whole. And the tactile, face-to-face nature of Syntegration further differentiates the experience from the increasingly distributed character of typical organizational interactions.
Syntegration is an outstanding example of the effectiveness of applied cybernetics. The output from a Syntegration engagement includes the extensive rich insights gained by each participant and the group, and a written plan of action influenced by each participant. The plan includes the knowledge and interests of all participants, and has their understanding and agreement. In this way, all the essential prerequisites for effective implementation exist: the solution is a lasting, holistic one because all relevant points of view are covered, and all key people involved in its implementation understand and agree. Moreover, the solution is concrete and can be implemented immediately.
Syntegration – The Science for Rapid Co-creation and Mobilization
Just as form follows function, a problem-solving approach must follow problem type:
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