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Simplification for Strategic Leverage

Remember this much ridiculed visual monstrosity?:

Excessively complex representations, much less the bureaucratic systems in practice, are poor vehicles for efficient communication of strategic conceptualizations to the uninformed – such as those downstream who must labor to execute such designs. Or those targeted by them for help or harm.  In addition to the difficulty in ascertaining prioritization, the unnaturally rigid complexity of the bureaucracy generally prevents an efficient focus of the system’s resources and latent power. The system gets in it’s own way while eating ever growing amounts of resources to produce less and less, leading to paralysis and collapse.

Does it have to?

Here’s an interesting, very brief take on analytical simplification from a natural scientist and network theorist Dr. Eric Berlow on how to cull simplification – and thus an advantage – out of complex systems by applying an ecological paradigm.

Cognitive simplification will be a critical strategic tool in the 21st century.


8 Responses to “Simplification for Strategic Leverage”

  1. seydlitz89 Says:

    I would add "Clausewitzian" to the mix of labels . . . a Clausewitzian is at home with this non-linear approach . . . only one standpoint adds clarity to the rest in strategy – the political . . .

  2. J. Scott Says:

    Wilf had a field day with this video when I posted at FB, but Berlow’s points are well taken.

  3. zen Says:

    Hi seydlitz89,
    There’s Clausewitzians and then there’s Jominians who think they are Clausewitzians :)
    That said, I agree with you re: alinearity. One of the things that struck me during the Clausewitz RT at Chicago Boyz was that after reading On War, it seemed to me that CvC would have felt more at home today in the more uncertain 21st C.  than in the dominant industrial/linear/"mass-man" culture of the late 19th to mid 20th C. He could discern potential order emerging from chaos.
    Hi Scott,
    I can only imagine ;)  

  4. seydlitz89 Says:


    Well put.  The incessant need for guidelines and lists of principles to guide action seems to be a human trait.  In other words the search for strategic "dogma" is unfortunately never ending and the notion of seemingly being able to predict events in conflicts (what Svechin rightly imo refers to as "Charlatanism")  will always be a good seller.

    What I liked about Berlow, was here’s a theorist attempting to make theory comprehensible and relevant for people.  Instead of seeing theory as the opposite of practice (or praxis), as unfortunately many people do, he indicates an active and ongoing interaction between the two.  His model is retrospective and based on factual evidence, so he cuts speculation down to a minimum.  Yet he’s able to introduce a very complex set of interrelated concepts in such a way as they excite interest in his audience.  This is what Berlow succeeds in doing imo.  It’s not  that this approach will win the war in Afghanistan (he says simply his approach may be applicable to other areas), nor does he question the accuracy/utility of the DoD graph, he simply makes it comprehensible as a complex system using his approach.

    From a strategic theory perspective this would lead to a whole series of very interesting questions in regards to his "model".  Can it apply to social science, in this case conflicts between political communities?  How do we factor in subjective "meaning", since this is actually the driving force behind social action?  What information is relevant and irrelevant for our analysis? .  .  . much food for thought.   

  5. Fred Leland Says:

    Problem solving, complicated, complex, chaos and making sense with the strange attractor…Simplicity! He did make it look much easier.

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