Interview with Johanna Rothman about leading complexity

See the video in our LinkedIn post.

Welcome to the Leading Complexity program, Johanna. Please let the audience better know who you are.

People know me as the pragmatic manager because that’s the name of my monthly newsletter and it’s also what I do. I really believe that management has a role to play – a vital role to play – and yet a lot of the more traditional approaches to management are neither reasonable, practical, or pragmatic. What I do, as I help managers of all Stripes, is to help them understand what alternatives that are reasonable, practical, and pragmatic that they can use to adapt their product development practices.

The program will be about leading complexity so why do you think that leaders should care about complexity?

In my experience, all organizations have financial responsibilities. If not just to pay their taxes but to pay their employees. All those decisions tend to drive some behaviors in the organization. 

Some of those behaviors are a reflection of “well, since this happens therefore I should do that”,  except there are all kinds of twists and turns that people could take advantage of – that’s the complexity. It might look like a straight point from A to B but it’s almost never a straight point if you want to really take advantage of the brilliance of the people that work with you, of the products that you want to offer, of the customers you want to attract into your ecosystem. If we optimized for complexity instead of for simplicity we could take advantage of that.

What would you say are the biggest challenges facing complexity?

I think that some of the biggest challenges are recognizing that what we used to do, especially as managers, is not what we need to do now. We have much more uncertainty in the product space. We have less certainty when we plan our strategy.

So how could we take advantage of that lack of certainty? How can we optimize for uncertainty as opposed to demand certainty?

What is your key message to those leaders navigating in complexity?

The first thing is to understand why the organization exists. If we understand the purpose of the organization we can then make many many more decisions better. Like, who are the people we didn’t serve? Who are the customers we want to attract? What do we do for our local context and our global context? Why do we exist? What good do we do in the world? What is the overarching goal for our efforts and how do we create teams, especially of managers, to focus on that overarching goal? 

One of the problems I see a lot in organizations is that my manager has this goal and your manager has that goal. That’s not so useful. How do we actually work towards one overarching goal for cohorts and managers? 

If I can add one more thing to say: How are we thinking in “teams” all the way up and down the organization and across. We often think of the senior leadership team and product teams. What happened to all those managers and leaders in the middle? They are “not chopped liver”. 

What would the participants bring with them from your session?

Hopefully, a couple of ideas on how to start right now. A lot of times you see really big problems. How do we take one, two, or three small steps to change where we are and go towards that overarching goal? What are the one, two, or three things we can do? They’re not easy. If they were easy, people would have done them already. So this is about choosing which one or two or three things you can do and then a few steps to get you there.

Don’t miss Johanna and the other awesome speakers at the program.

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