“To trace something unknown back to something known is alleviating, soothing, gratifying and gives moreover a feeling of power. Danger, disquiet, anxiety attend the unknown – the first instinct is to eliminate these distressing states. First principle: any explanation is better than none…”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

Economist and best selling author John Mauldin expands on Nietzsche’s thought in a recent article:

“Ah,” we tell ourselves, “I know why that happened.” With an explanation firmly in mind, we now feel we know something. And the behavioral psychologists note that this state actually releases chemicals in our brain that make us feel good. We literally become addicted to the simple explanation. The fact that what we “know” (the explanation for the unknowable) is irrelevant or even wrong is not important for the chemical release. And thus we look eagerly for reasons.

And that is also why some people get so angry when you challenge their beliefs. You are literally taking away the source of their good feeling, like drugs from a junkie or a boyfriend from a teenage girl.

Please help me make sense of this. Or just tell me what to do.

Reflecting back over hundreds of conversations I’ve had in different contexts with different people, in varying landscapes, and with a variety of props, the narrative is largely the same. It goes something like this:

Things could be or should be much better around here. Can you please fix this problem we’re having? Even though we’ve never been able to solve these issues over our 35 year history, please tell me that you can fix this cheaply and quickly.

In reality, we see this mindset permeate all facets of our lives. Billions are spent on weight loss programs, pills, supplements, and liposuction surgery when science has proven that diet, sleep, and exercise are the core contributors to health.

Our leaders and financial engineering “gurus” have spent TRILLIONS trying to engineer their way out of a crushing debt burden that is weighing heavily on the global economy and must be reconciled at some point. This week, in fact, the US National Debt just passed $16,000,000,000,000! Individuals take the same approach by overspending and then desperately look for a loophole, a handout, or beg Uncle Sam to just make it better, or easier.

We keep running and looking for a way out, and the world cheers and the stock markets soar when a new “recovery” plan is introduced. Yay, we fixed it! But we didn’t. History has shown that we’re just kicking the can down the road, and similar roads through the millennia have shown that simply spending and investing less than you make is really the only reliable road to sustained wealth.

Too often, I see corporate leadership, practitioners, consultants, marketers and sales teams claim and invest based on the idea that the latest technological advancements will fix the issues they’ve had forever, and are deeply embedded in the structural, cultural, procedural, and relational dynamics of the organization. Or, perhaps just as often, because of their awareness of the deep seeded and interconnected issues, they shy away from making the hard decisions and complicated investments to travel the tough road of change.

We collectively seek the magic pill. As Nietzsche said, “…Any explanation is better than none” – especially when we have no idea what’s going on, or don’t want to face the truth about what it means.

While I don’t have the research and data, the psychology behind these well worn patterns may be the reason for the Hype cycle. “Finally, what we’ve been looking for is here to save us!!! All of our issues are gone! It’s the dawning of a brand new day!” But, the trough of disillusionment soon follows, as it’s never quite as easy as it seems. How much productivity will be lost this year – wasted on ill advised technological investments or the inability or unwillingness to make the required investment in change?

I was reminded of these patterns this week during a back channel conversation where one of my colleagues was talking about silos within his organization basically making progress impossible. and the destruction of those silos potentially making things worse.

What then, shall we do?

I don’t have the easy answers. But do have some examples to consider that may help you in your journey:

(1) I was reading an article about Evernote CEO Phil Libin (great product by the way), when I noticed that he had a 6 year plan. How many executives operate along a six year plan? Many I know really and truly operate on a quarterly or yearly basis. Then I found this video where he talks about how he wants Evernote to be a 100 year company startup.

(2) This brings up thoughts of Jeff Bezos and what Amazon is doing. They are becoming the de facto cloud backbone for the corporate world, while simultaneously revolutionizing the procurement and consumption of content.

From an article in the New York Times:

“If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people,” Mr. Bezos told reporter Steve Levy last month in an interview in Wired. “But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that. Just by lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavors that you could never otherwise pursue. At Amazon we like things to work in five to seven years. We’re willing to plant seeds, let them grow—and we’re very stubborn.” – Jeff Bezos

(3) and finally, this week I ran across a video from a guy who has taken a picture of himself EVERY DAY for the last 150 months (that’s 12 and a half years for the English majors).

Perhaps the greatest irony about each of the examples above is they each have pursued simplicity relentlessly. Evernote makes is incredibly simply to save and retrieve anything. Amazon makes it incredibly simple to find, purchase, and consume content (as well as physical products) of all kinds. And Noah’s project couldn’t be simpler.

So as you move forward with your social media, social business, collaboration, CRM, marketing automation, customer experience, big data, or other business transformation initiative, and are tempted to find and press the easy button, remember Simple works. Easy does not.


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