KISS Over Complexity

by Ron Hall/Editor-in-Chief
2/20/2013

In reading the book "Currency Wars" by James Rickards this past weekend, I came across something called "complexity theory." The author devoted a dozen pages to it. I found it fascinating and I think it has meaning for us as businesspeople and as service providers. And, I think we can take comfort that the vast majority of us needn't worry about the consequences of the complexity theory, at least in terms of our companies or our industry. Even so, I hope that you find compelling what I'm sharing with you in this brief column.
 
With apologies to the author for simplifying the meaning of complexity theory way beyond what he likely appreciates, let's just say that as parts and independent agents are added to a system, it becomes increasingly complex, requiring ever-more amounts of energy to function and becoming more and more prone to catastrophic failure.
 
He makes the point that, indeed, even the intervention of a single tiny and unanticipated factor impacting the system can cause it to collapse.
 
The author gives the example of a single snowflake that falls on the side of a snow-covered mountain causing an avalanche. Can you blame the snowflake for the catastrophe when conditions made the avalanche all but inevitable? If not this particular snowflake, then another.
 
While the author refers to complexity theory in relation to today's opaque fragile economy, he makes the point that complexity theory applies to all systems, natural and manufactured.
 
The author elsewhere in the book decries so-called "rent seeking," which he describes as the accumulation of wealth through nonproductive means. He refers to this in reference to an economic system that rewards 25 hedge fund managers with a reported $22 billion in 2010 while more than 20 million Americans are out of work.
 
Again, I tried to frame this in the context of our industry and was gratified that we measured well there, also. As I read the book, I felt even greater appreciation for the part that we in the green industry play in our economy and the benefits we provide society: We consistently deliver tangible, observable, life-enhancing products and services.
 
We're an industry of tens of thousands of small business owners that provide products and services in competitive, totally transparent markets. We earn money for ourselves and our families, save money for our retirements and, if all goes well, build the worth of our companies by improving our customers' properties and, by extension, boosting our customers' sense of wellbeing.
 
In the end, the efficiency of our systems and the quality of the services and products we deliver to clients determines who among us wins.
 
Most of us subscribe to KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid), which lends itself to the creative process of designing and installing stunning landscapes and even more so to the repetitive nature of our property maintenance and lawn care services. ("See lawn. Mow lawn. Deliver invoice. Repeat daily.")
 
Yes, for a myriad of reasons, we can make what we do unnecessarily complicated. That is if we're foolish enough to go that route. But, in the end, our businesses, indeed the green industry as a whole, grounded in basic principles of horticulture, construction and business needn't and shouldn't be made unduly complex.

What James Rickards shared in his book, dealing on the grander issues of national and global fiscal and monetary policies, struck me as applying to just about every facet of our lives and businesses. With increasing complexity comes increasing risk of failure.