“How do you eat an elephant?”

The metaphor is oft repeated in working life, and elephant eating seems to be a stock in trade of the average large organisation.

But nobody seems to stop and ask “Why the bloody hell are we eating elephant? Isn’t there something a little smaller?”

Simplification has become the mantra. The way to deal with complexity is to chunk it down. No matter that KISS might actually stand for Keep It Stupidly Simple. Removing the complexity from complex systems might just make your approaches stupid.

The measurement obsession often throws up evidence of this: Campbell’s and Goodhart’s laws appear with distressing frequency. The use of traffic light reporting pushes the valuable skill of forecasting into the realm of the worthless (100-, not 3-point scales are what Superforecasters use).

So what to do? Acknowledging and gearing for complexity would be a sensible start – systems thinking remains stubbornly unfashionable because it’s just not chunked-elephant enough. Starting small and then looking to operate at scale, not simply scaling the small to the large also provides a credible mindset – despite the Silicon Valley hype the former rarely works.

After all, why eat an elephant when you could have a nice, balanced meal?

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