Thriving in Complexity – Creating products in rapidly changing times

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Guest Post: Pete Holliday


If you have a look around the current business environment, it doesn’t take long to see how technology has affected not only our lives, but also the way we work. Now more than ever the way we work is impacted by more forces that are less tangible and controllable than ever before.

The ways in which we used to run our businesses, and the processes that control them have not really changed, despite the fact that the very nature of how we work in many roles is completely different. As we have moved from the shop floor to the office, much has changed. Many of today’s senior roles no longer build or produce anything of physical value. They simply shift and manipulate information while adding meaning, in order to create value.

Shifting information in straight lines and mirroring the linear processes of the industrial era are no longer efficient or effective for today’s business environment. We need to start thinking in networks not straight lines. We need to focus on building collaborative, instantaneous value rather than gradual addition. Markets now shift so spontaneously that by the time you create a product, it is almost out of date. Shortening product development time to market is critical to its value life and possible return on investment. Today the value of a piece of knowledge or the product it represents is far shorter than it was in the past, and it’s getting shorter day by day. This means that a competitor’s ability to copy or respond to your market offering is also faster, in order to stay ahead of the game you need to be constantly iterating and improving your products and services.

We need to be able to look into the future with greater accuracy in order to be converging the market need with a viable product at the same time. Calculating both product design and implementation processes based on the past is too slow. We need new ways of working, ways that are fast and agile. Here are some interesting key concepts on how to match the speed of the future in the present.


Think Ahead – what is the future context?

One of the key mistakes I see businesses making when trying to come to grips with complexity is that they are thinking about the solutions to their current issues based on their current operational context. Often I’ll suggest to clients that they need to project their solutions into the future. This is the only way they can match the speed of change. Think of it like passing a car on a highway, if you only match the speed of the other vehicle and change lanes, you’ll run straight into the car next to you. You need to project your intention further ahead in order to get in front. Too many organisations don’t think far enough ahead, by they time they create a solution it is no longer relevant too the current problem or challenge. Moving with speed and thinking longer term with a more systemic approach is a crucial component for effective change.

Consumer Experience – a new sales pathway.

If we look back at the tipping point between Apple’s dominance over the technology market from one time giant IBM, it’s easy to see one key shift. A shift in focus from product-centred, to experience-centred design. Too often we focus on creating the perfect product, rather than the perfect experience. Once you win the hearts and minds of individuals the product sells its self. I am reflecting on a comment recently by Tim Cook the current CEO of Apple, “we sell dreams, not products” this statement perfectly demonstrates an experience focused approach to market capitalisation. Very few businesses take the time to understand their customers’ or clients’ internal expectations of a product, focusing more often than not on the exterior product features, as opposed to the complete ecosystem of a product.

Diversity of Thinking – multiple inputs.

Again reflecting on the recent Tim Cook interview on the Fortune website. When asked about ideas and capturing the market, Tim speaks profoundly about the power and dynamic organisational capability delivered from diversity. Interestingly enough he frames diversity in terms of thinking, not gender or experience. A key difference from the way a majority of people think about it. Shallow or surface diversity is simply the tangible aspect of something that runs much deeper. Tim speaks to one of the key aspects of Apple’s success being a deep diversity of thought in enabling Apple to be agile and nimble in the market.

Side Stepping Perfectionism – get going early and remember 70% is good enough.

Often we get caught up in cycles of perfection, waiting for the perfect product. We use this excuse of perfection as a reason not to act, and as a form of work avoidance. Organisations that capture the marketplace move quickly and rapidly failing forward as they go. They rapidly prototype and move to market based on the 70% is good enough rule, dynamically steering the product in real time. Let the market do the heavily lifting and product testing for you. Don’t wait, be proactive rather than reactive – the market decides your product fate rather than the long cycle times of internal product development.

Partner – many hands make light work

Today many organisations are forced into such high degrees of specialisation in order to be competitive that they are no longer able to commit to the required quality in areas that they do not specialise. The emerging era requires a new model, a partnership model. One where we leverage each other’s uniqueness and specialisations for mutual benefit. Moving together with a common purpose, ensures that we can maximise our quality while still completing on time and budget. This approach can also lead to collaborative product creation that would not have been possible by working alone.



So few businesses actually measure the impact of their interventions or decisions on the real world. Metrics at best are vague and non-specific. Getting a clear process in place to test and validate your change initiatives is crucial for maximising your return on investment. The net promoter score has been widely used by many companies to seek direct customer interaction about the effectiveness of their product and the purchasers experience. It asks five simple questions about whether a person enjoyed your customer experience, and secondly the likeliness that they would refer the product or service onto another. Tools like Net Promoter allow us to track in real time the success of various stages of product development and deployment. Understanding client experience is a key crucial step in growing your business.

At the Holos Group we wanted to help organisations and businesses track their performance and interventions with greater granularity. We wanted to ensure that businesses could actually see the changes to their products and services via customer engagement and retention. Together with Dr Richard Harmer we have created a platform to take Net Promoter to the next level. We looked at the key aspects of the Net Promoter, and drilled down into more detail. By creating a far more granular approach to the process of how to move from client engagement, to client advocacy. We went beyond the simplicity of Net Promoter and distilled the fundamental aspects of what is required to ensure your clients become advocates of your brand and your product. The Customer Advocacy Performance Profile details a four step journey (Positioning, Confidence, Experience, Loyalty) that allows organisations and businesses to track their journey from unknown to a place where your clients and their business could not function without you.

Implementing some of the key concepts of our Strategic Effectiveness Model (Insight, Action, Impact), while continuing to consistently measure customer retention and engagement in real time, are key steps towards effectively measuring your business performance in a rapidly changing world.