LETTER: Business life is not that simple

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The Independent Online
From Mr Tony Kippenberger

Sir: Bryan Appleyard makes some valuable connections ("Simple lies mask complex truths", 24 May) while explaining why the BBC's forthcoming documentary series The Living Dead - Three Films about the Power of the Past contains "among the best, most original and most difficult" television programmes he has ever seen.

He points out that Adam Curtis, the producer, is seeking to get across the message that attempts to simplify the world are invariably wrong-headed and frequently dangerous. Appleyard agrees with the central message that the real human world resists simplification, but acknowledges that the desire to simplify still appears to be overwhelming. While identifying digital technocrats, politicians, journalists and, one suspects, economists, he omits another worthy group of candidates - much of the business community. As soon as he acknowledges why people need simplifications (because the real limitless complexity of the world can leave people paralysed) and when he accepts that we are still in thrall to "the expert" (since the quick-fix legacy is hard to shake off), he neatly specifies their candidature.

Most thinking managers will acknowledge how complex "things" have become, yet they still have to operate in structures that were built for predicability and were designed for command and control. They inhabit processes where uncertainty equates to indecisiveness, where speed and clarity require executive summaries and quantitative plans. Worse, the incremental failings of these 100-year-old structures and processes - heavily based, as they were, on "scientific management" thinking - are driving managers into the arms of the "experts" in droves. As a result, management consultants and competing management gurus prey on the quick-fix mentality, by reducing and condensing complexity into packaged solutions that can then be applied universally.

It will be interesting to see how well the BBC's visual presentation handles the issue of embedded mental habits. In our own experience, the shift of emphasis from what people think to the way people think is one of the most ambitious, yet central, tasks facing individuals and managers today.

Yours faithfully,

TONY KIPPENBERGER

Director

Centre for Strategic

Business Studies

Winchester

24 May

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