Daily leadership activities to leverage complexity. 8th: the centralization – decentralization pendulum

We all familiar with the pendulum of centralization and decentralization. We see it not just in the organizations, but also in technologies and other aspects of life. This pendulum is an effort to keep stability. When one of the above systems is being too extreme, it’s balanced by moving in the opposite direction. That is a known cycle that helps us predict (in high level) where we will be.

Complexity and simplicity are the same. We start with a state where the environment looks understandable and simple. Overtime the environment becomes more complex until it looks too complex to us. Everything is relative. When variety around us keeps growing, suddenly the previous complexity looks simple (compared to the emerging new complexity). Complexity-simplicity pair is not creating a pendulum behavior. It’s more of a staircase that the step below looks simpler and the step above us looks complex. 

There is a correlation between these two pairs. Simplicity provides a better condition for centralization to develop. Complexity is a better soil for growing decentralization. As I mentioned before, extreme centralization or decentralization will have a negative impact. Therefore, although we will always go up in the stairs of complexity, someone needs to keep the balance between centralization and decentralization.

It doesn’t matter if we are talking about a group of five people or five thousand people. Someone in that group needs to measure the level of complexity and simplicity and validate if the pendulum needs to swing in the other direction. Swinging the pendulum to the other direction required effort and energy. Usually, the change from centralization to decentralization and vice versa will not take place by itself.

The monitoring and investment of energy to keep the group in an optimal state is the role of a leader. It doesn’t matter if someone assigned the leader or she grew naturally. Part of the daily tasks of a leader is to gauge complexity and centralization, to realize if a change is needed, and to spend energy on finding out how to move the pendulum. Once we know how to change the pendulum direction, we need to take daily actions to change the pendulum direction.

It’s not enough to understand the pendulum and to use it for predictions. If you see yourself as a leader of any group of people you need to be responsible to change the pendulum before the current direction will cause too much damage. Believe me, it will make damage if it won’t swing the other direction. 

The obvious question is how can I know that the pendulum needs to swing the other direction? Regretfully there aren’t any simple answers. The best way that I found so far depends on the group purpose (if you have one). 

If you can define a combination of datasets (metrics) and people’s feedback that can give you a sign about the group progress toward achieving its purpose, you can use this data. When you see a negative change of 10% compared to the previous progress, that’s a good sign that the pendulum needs to be change direction.

 All the other ways that I’m familiar with are based on experience and intuition. I can say with full confidence that experience and intuition are based on what happened in the past. The problem is that you are trying to understand what is the future direction. The future will be a deviation of the past, never an accurate replication of past events. It’s not a good method to understand how the future will fold based on the past.

There’re some ways to know when the pendulum needs to change direction, but they are a fit for certain industries, companies, or groups. You will find them after several cycles. Watching complexity, simplicity, centralization, and decentralization, is a daily task any leader should allocate time for.

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