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Vern Edwards

Complicated versus Complex

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I want to highly recommend an article that appeared several years ago in Harvard Business Review: "Learning to Live with Complexity," by Gokce Sargut and Rita McGrath (September 2011). It contains the best discussion of the distinction between complicated and complex that I have ever read. The authors have much to say that applies to acquisition today.

https://hbr.org/2011/09/learning-to-live-with-complexity

I came across it by following a link in an article that appeared yesterday at Defense One online, entitled, "Stop Using 'Strategic' To Mean Everything Under the Sun," by Josh Kerbel. You may have to register to access it. http://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2016/10/stop-using-strategic-mean-everything-under-sun/132790/

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Thanks for sharing, I hadn't come across that HBR article before.  I often use the term "linguistic precision" when stressing the importance of using the right word(s), particularly in our business.  I'll never forget the feedback (aka red ink) I received from my Commander the first time I drafted a Proposal Analysis Report and Source Selection Decision Document for a source selection.  I took, what I'll call, a "college writing approach" to the documents using synonyms for many of the words (e.g. cost, price, amount, etc.) to help the documents flow better and to avoid sounding repetitive only to find out that approach was improper because each of those words mean specifically what they're defined to and were therefore inappropriate as replacements for one another.  So I learned from my mistake and share the story as often as I can with new buyers so they can learn from it as well.  Glad to see a couple articles on a similar subject.

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Thank you for sharing both links Vern.  I like the embedded reference in the Defense One article on Orwell's "Politics and the English Language: http://www.npr.org/blogs/ombudsman/Politics_and_the_English_Language-1.pdf

It strikes me that personnel in (and out of) government latch on to "loose" concepts and "loose" language as a way to 1) pitch themselves as "strategic thinkers" who are "ahead of the curve", and 2) as a way to hide shortcomings associated with their lack of understanding in how to bring things about (thus mistaking complicated with complex).  I find that many over complexify the essentially simple (making solvable problems unsolvable due to artificially created uncertainty), and also overly simplify the essentially complex (thinking that they will be able to solve problems than warranted due to artificially created certainty).

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My niece just passed the first part of the Foreign Service entry exam and is now preparing to write her three essays. She said she needs to improve her writing, so I gave her a copy of "Politics and the English Language" to read. I also recommend the Everyman's Library edition of Orwell's Essays.

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