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  • John Melbye

Season Two, Episode Nine and a Half

Complexity and Precision – Part Two

In an already complex world, and the ever-changing interwoven relationships and connections, we must choose how to mitigate that complexity. Let’s explore modular precision.


What if we could segment the precision, with built-in connectivity between the segments, rather than forcing the entire operation into a step by step linear process?

Imagine a restaurant, where you place your order and then they call the suppliers to request the raw materials required to prepare the meal you ordered. You would have to order your food days or weeks in advance. And, you would then be committing to arrive at the restaurant within say 30 minutes of your meal being ready for you. Each step of the process would have to be precisely coordinated with each other step such that everything arrived at exactly the right time, with no errors. Even if the price was low, this would not make sense to anyone.


In today’s restaurant, they’ve already segmented the precision. How? They stock the ingredients in the freezer, fridge, or shelf. So, the precision happens first from the raw materials to the backroom storage and then second from the ingredients in the storage through the kitchen and on to the table. And, the steak that takes 15 minutes to prepare arrives at the same time as the French fries that were stored as cut potatoes and took 3 minutes to deep fry.


When you stop for an oil change, the oil itself is in the building and the replacement filter is in the storeroom. So, the precision occurs in the sequence of draining the existing oil, removing the old filter, closing the drainplug, installing the new filter, and then filling the oil reservoir.


When there are smaller segments to precisely manage, there are less points at which things can go wrong. Therefore, my estimate of the time required can be more accurate as well as more responsive than if the entire chain was linear and unprotected.

What this tells me is that we already understand that making things more precise from the very beginning to the very end is not a viable solution. We don’t do it in our daily lives unless we want something that is “special ordered” because it is customized to my specific needs.


We must align our expectations with reality. If I expect a long chain of events to happen precisely, with no delays and no changes, then I will be disappointed almost every time. Reality shows us that delays happen and those delays impact all of the other steps and often the next chain of events. An airplane arrival delay impacts the passenger’s ability to get to the next flight, or make it home in time for dinner. It also may impact the availability of the gate for the next airplane that arrives. And the continuing flight may depart late and in turn arrive late.


We need to stop and determine the real enemy. When precision breaks down, the entire system breaks down. The real enemy is our insistence that precision is king, and we must make sure all things go perfectly and align with the next steps, which also must go perfectly.


The world has changed. We no longer have time to work from beginning to end. We have to compartmentalize and manage each segment separately yet understand the relationship with each other segment. We must focus on being roughly right instead of our current focus on being precisely wrong. Only then will we find our way forward.

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