The Cost of Complexity

Key Point: If we don’t understand the essence of something very quickly and easily, we might want to fiercely fight for alternatives or flat out reject it. Why?

Complexity almost always involves waste. I’m not talking about advanced science that takes years of academic understanding. I’m talking about most things in work and life, where we can put “elegantly simple” as a priority when filtering out proposals.

As an example, I’ve been curiously watching the “Holacracy Management Experiment.” Holacracy is the so-called avant-garde management system that serves as an alternative to the traditional office hierarchy. When Tony Hsieh, Zappos’ inventive CEO, dives into something, I become very interested. However, Holacracy is struggling to get real traction as a widely adopted, scalable management system. After working at it for four years, Medium is giving up on it. Medium lists a series of “challenges” it faced while using Holacracy, all of which boil down to a familiar problem: It was too complicated. 

According to a recent Bloomberg article on the subject, “’The biggest pain point was, with a growing company, investment and teaching new people when they show up how to use Holacracy,’ said Jason Stirman, who was Medium’s enthusiastic Holacracy Officer-in addition to his estimated 40 other roles-until he left to start his own app six months ago. 

So what happened? ‘For us, Holacracy was getting in the way of the work,’ wrote Andy Doyle, who works in operations at Medium, in a recent blog post. Forgoing hierarchy is supposed to set companies free from the tyranny of bureaucracy. Holacracy just created a new kind of organizational red tape. ‘Teaching a mindset was a big investment,’ said Stirman. Hiring and orienting new employees, an already expensive process, was made even more difficult because of Holacracy. ‘You could essentially take a week off [from] work to get everyone trained professionally, which would be incredibly expensive.’ And he’s not even sure that would get everyone up to speed on the intricacies of Holacracy. Many companies can’t afford to spend the time and money working on the way they work, rather than on the work itself. Stirman, for example, doesn’t plan on running his new venture as a Holacracy. ‘With my new company, nothing is more important than getting this app in the app store,’ he said. ‘I’m not employing any system that involves any kind of learning.”’

Think about that last quote: “Not employing any system that involves any kind of learning.” When I reflect about my own personal behavior, I have a huge gag reflex when I open up an app or any consumer device that requires a long visit with instructions. I’ve become used to the delight of opening things up that “work out of the box.” Not surprisingly, Apple is genius at this, from packaging to playing. Usually they deliver a simple elegant design. Now think about lots of things we do in organizations. The reason I believe operating people get so frustrated with support units (e.g. HR, finance, marketing, compliance, etc.) is because they often make things so darn complicated for people working with customers.

My latest pet peeve is friggin’ compensation systems. In many organizations, we have made it so you have to be a member of Mensa to navigate incentive comp. (Our comp people deserve Purple Hearts for trying to uphold the integrity of our system). And why? Perhaps one reason is that old school business education has it firmly planted in peoples’ minds that employees will only do something if pay is directly attached. That may hold true if you’re getting paid by the basket for picking peas, but obviously thats not the case in most work places. For some reason, we often like to take pay and have it apply to numerous variables “brilliant” managers parse up as “vital” and then, heaven forbid, if the compensation system doesn’t weed out individual performance. Managers often try and use the compensation system to cover up lousy leadership. Add… No, multiply… All this together and you get major COMPLEXITY. There’s my little compensation complexity rant. And trust me, I’m going to do something about this in our company. 

Character Moves:

  1. Ask yourself how anything of importance you’re doing at work and life is “elegantly simple.” Then consider what you can do to reduce the complexity and take out the unnecessary clutter. Just because you or your organization has been doing something for a long time, doesn’t make it right. Take the waste out! Attack the process.   
  2. If someone proposes something and you don’t “get the essence of it” right away, be constructively skeptical. Ask yourself how it would do against the following: “Not employing any system that involves any kind of learning.” And when someone says you need a massive “roll out,” so called assigned “Change Managers,” huge amount of training, push back hard. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot any such proposal. 

Simply in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS) is a pretty infallible acronym for most things. People may enjoy the puzzle involved with complexity. Maybe they believe it makes them seem smarter, more capable, or better educated. But ask a person who just successfully ordered dinner by Tweeting a pizza emoji if they’d rather solve a calculus equation to earn their delivery. Probably not.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Do You Mind Winning?

Key Point: Our thinking and mindset has such a major impact on how things go in our lives. The great Internet retailer Zappos uses one key interview question (among a number of others) as a way of determining cultural fit. They ask a prospective candidate if they see themselves as “lucky” or not. Research has determined that people who think of themselves as lucky, collectively, are more successful in work and life. The essence is that if you expect that things will work out for you, they likely will and vice versa. I’m not suggesting that we can think our way into winning the lottery or some unrealistic fantasy, which would be silly. However, expecting to win, to be successful, and to declare it by stating “I am ___” is a foundation for success. Mentally picturing ourselves winning in work/life provides a roadmap for our mind and heart to align, connect and achieve a desired future state.

Hopefully you had a chance to watch the NFL National League Championship football game this Sunday (apologies to my many European, Asian readers and others who aren’t interested in American football). The game offered a wonderful lesson underlying a winning mindset. Those of you that viewed the game saw a remarkable comeback by the Seattle Seahawks over the Green Bay Packers. When Pete Carroll, the Seahawks’ coach was asked after the game how it felt to think he might lose, when the team was so far behind, he genuinely said, “I wasn’t thinking about losing the game.” When the Seahawks’ quarterback, Russell Wilson, was asked how they won after playing so poorly, Wilson told reporters he was always confident they were going to win and never gave up on himself and his teammates. In fact, he predicted throwing the winning touchdown to the receiver in overtime in advance of doing just that. He absolutely believed they would win even when things looked bleak and out of reach. His view wasn’t based on arrogance or being unrealistic. His confidence exists because he knows no other way to think and play the game.

This is a wonderful lesson for all of us. The Seahawks may not win the Super Bowl and will obviously eventually lose another game. Of course, just thinking about winning is insufficient; one has to actually execute with skill. Nevertheless, if one does not genuinely think they are going to win, you can almost be assured they will lose! And I know this same principle applies in work and life.

Character Moves:

  1. Expect to be lucky. Expect to win. Prepare to win. And to stay with the sports analogy, if things don’t go well at some point, even if for an extended time, know that eventually, based on your perseverance that it will! Part of winning is extending the finish line until you do. The great thing about life/work is that for most of us, we “play” for a long time. A losing “quarter” or “half” does not determine how the “game” ends.
  2. When you are on a team, expect the best from and trust your teammates. Don’t worry about whether they are doing their jobs. Fix yourself first and be your absolute best. Believe in your teammates and share how you feel about them. Encourage them. We usually rise up when we know our teammates believe in us.
  3. In the end the “love” word emerges: Self love that each of us deserves to win and have good things happen to us and love of our team and mates. LOVE. Winners fearlessly embrace the word and all the emotion it drives.

Love winning in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: I was at a watch party for the aforementioned Seahawk’s game, and I won’t pretend to tell you that I didn’t think the game was won and done for the Packers with five minutes remaining. I know people who attended the game in Seattle that left towards the end (to beat traffic), because, the odds were that the contest was all but over. Thank goodness the Hawks reminded all of us that you don’t stop till the final whistle blows, and that applies to every aspect of life. Is it cushier to win when it’s not such a battle? Yes. But, I guarantee you if you asked any of the Hawks players how they’d prefer the outcome, they’d say the game couldn’t have been more perfect. It’s those hard earned wins, the ones where you scoop your victorious confidence from the pits of darkness that feel the best. Hawk n’ roll!

 – Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Talk Isn’t Cheap

Key Point: Learning how to listen and talk to each other is a life long requirement. It requires focus, thoughtful skill development and the mindset, that face-to-face, voice-to-voice conversation is essential to relationship development. An experienced colleague of mine, who has had a very successful executive career, mused to me the other day; “so many of the challenges I was dealing with last week could have been avoided by having conversations with people rather than using the ubiquitous email. If I had a blog, I would blog about the need for everyone to talk more and use email less… It could be a topic for one of your blogs, Lorne?” Ok… Jill… Here it is:

The foundation of successful “talk” starts in childhood. Decades of research shows that parents of all backgrounds do not need to buy expensive educational toys, digital devices and chauffeur their kids to enrichment classes to give them an edge. What they need to do with their children is much simpler: TALK!! But of course, the quality of these discussions counts too. A study conducted by researchers at the UCLA School of Public Health (published in the journal Pediatrics), found that two-way adult-child conversations were six times as potent in promoting language development as interludes in which the adult did all the talking.

Notice the phrase “two-way.” Well, the competence from relentlessly developing effective two-way conversation needs to be continuous. It is instructive to me that two leading companies Quicken and Zappos, prioritize two-way communication while bringing all new employees on board. They do not and cannot assume that their new hires come equipped to know how to constructively talk. Wow! The lead content of the leadership development initiative at the company I work for is called “Conversations!” Why? As Susan Scott has famously noted, “Conversation is the relationship and the relationship is the conversation.” One key to effective leadership is the ability to have crucial conversations and develop relationships. 

Character Moves:

  1. How have you improved your skills or ability to have a two-way conversation recently? Are you more equipped to take on any challenging discussion? What framework or model do you use? Or do you just “wing it” because you assume everyone just knows how to ” talk?” As an example, I’m going to watch the video below: “How to Speak so that People Want to Listen.”
  1. Please STOP hiding behind or inappropriately using email and/or texting. They are typically NOT effective tools for problem solving, creating, or meaningful relationship development. With platforms like Skype, FaceTime , and many other video oriented options, we can have more face-to-face interaction, even at a distance. More listening, and talking… Less email trails that can waste time and result in a relationship deficit. 
  1. Remember if we really value a relationship, we have to invest in talking to each other: That simple AND complex. Right, Jill? 

Watch this video and just talk in the Triangle,



One Millennial View: No one needs to remind me that my iPhone is used less as a “telephone” than anything else… 90 percent of my correspondence is text based, and that’s how I prefer it. Except, there are situations we’ve all been in when tone is ever so important. Unless you’re dead sure how someone is phrasing something, or knows the cadence of your own voice (which implies you likely spend enough face-to-face time anyways where you’re on that level), a call is never a bad idea when communicating something where “tone” could be misunderstood. Heck, iMessage can even record and text audio messages now with the push of a button… Let’s avoid getting caught in the tone-trap, they don’t have an emoji for “digging yourself out of a hole” yet. I would know.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

A “Shoe in” at Zappos


Key Point: Do you know a secret recipe that drives lasting positive relationships with customers and teammates? Zappos has 10 core values it imbeds into every fabric of the company. The other day, I spent a day with other colleagues visiting their headquarters; getting a behind the scenes look at their cultural strategy and tactics. All 10 values are clearly and deeply resident in the vast majority of Zapponians. If you don’t believe and embrace the values, you leave the company. There are no exceptions. The underpinning of everything the company teaches around their culture and core values is something they call PEC: Personal Emotional Connection.

A PEC at Zappos means every person makes a commitment to positive relationship development. And the company does not leave the idea of Personal Emotional Connection to chance. They spend weeks teaching every employee that a meaningful PEC involves three vital components: 1. An authentic connection. 2. Real empathy. 3. A valued solution. Additionally, they coach to these three elements. When you listen to Zapponians on the phone with their customers, the best calls include all three elements of PEC. And of course anybody who interacts with someone sincerely committed to a PEC concludes the relationship with a positive experience. We all love people who really care about our situation, find a way to connect with us and then do everything to solve our problems. When you listen to customers on the phone in Zappos customer loyalty center, after a strong PEC, they are almost in suspended disbelief and reluctant to hang up. Customers are so hardened by crappy customer service and steeled for conflict that they are waiting for the other “shoe to drop” (as it were). Instead, they’re pleasantly surprised to find out that there isn’t one.

Character Moves:

  1. Try intentionally applying the PEC framework to people you want to develop a positive relationship with. You will be amazed at how effective it is. Do it proactively and beyond just reacting to relationship issues. What if you identified people you wanted to make an emotional connection with and employed a proactive PEC? You would enhance your personal leadership brand.
  1. Think of a personal story involving a time when you changed someone’s life for the better and I bet you the “PEC 3” were fully applied and embraced. So in addition to concluding each day asking yourself how much you added positive value to everyone you interacted with, identify people you made a deep connection with, empathetically listened to AND brought a resolution to a present or potential problem for. That action will make you a masterful relationship builder and even more effective leader!

Doing the PEC in the Triangle


One Millennial View: It’s pretty popular knowledge that Comcast has some of the most abhorrent customer service. (Thus why a Comcast shirt accompanied with devil horns was a noteworthy Halloween costume in 2014). You wonder how a company like Zappos avoids this issue… Sure, maybe people just like talking shoes more than cable packages, but they both deal with troubleshooting. So, it likely comes down to instilled values and PEC. I happen not to be on the phones at a customer service desk, but I’d like to aim to always have the PEC to my position to develop positive relationships with anyone I engage with… And never leave them on “hold.”

– Garrett

Edited and Published by Garrett Rubis

Lorne Rubis

Lorne Rubis

The constant in Lorne’s diverse career is his ability to successfully lead organizations through significant change. At US West, where he served as a Vice President / Company Officer, Lorne was one of only seven direct reports ...
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Character Triangle

Our character is exclusively ours. We define it by how we think and what we do. I believe that acting with Character is driven by what I call the Character Triangle.

What, exactly, is the Character Triangle (CT)?

The CT describes and emphasizes three distinct but interdependent values:

Be Accountable: first person action to make things better, avoiding blame.
Be Respectful: being present, listening, looking again, focusing on the process.
Be Abundant: generous in spirit, moving forward, minimizing the lack of.

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