No kings in a complex world: the quest for the ‘one thing to focus on’ can be misleading

A couple of weeks ago I made a little comment on a post on LinkedIn which got me pondering about the nature of content, which led into a mild internal rant about the nature of information and the nature of complexity and decisions.

The tendency to state that something is ‘king’ is endemic in business conversations, LinkedIn, etc. Particularly when posting any kind of content. Particularly when that content is about content itself. Us, self-referential?

It’s an easy thing to do, and natural for us as target-oriented, prioritising, ripe-fruit selecting apes to do. Focus on one thing, and make it the only thing.

This IS key to strategic and creative thinking. It’s a critical analytical and productivity tool.

But it’s a lie.

No one factor can possibly determine success in complex interactions with complex individuals over a wider and deeper buying cycle, with more approvals and more divergent, changing requirements in more complex businesses.

Content is not king. Context is not king (or queen). Data is not king. Creative is not king. Planning is not king. Strategy is not king. Culture is not king. Behaviour is not king. Structure is not king. Experience is not king.

They might be the most important factor at a specific moment. But they’re not king – the only thing to get right.

And this is where the – to be honest – slightly facile observation that a particular type of clickbait content is inaccurate dovetails with something much more significant: the nature of decisions and even power.

While the sample statements above are useful as catch phrases, they are indicative of old-style attitudes. Of a world of simplicity. Of power clearly exercised.

Of a world of kings, in fact. A world that’s largely disappeared or disappearing.

We’ve mostly killed, deposed or outmoded our kings and increasingly we’re understanding that power and influence are much harder to wield than they used to be. Nothing is that simple any more. The assumption that it is can lead to misunderstandings that affect not just personal or even business decisions, but global stability – for instance, the assumption that Russia never seeks partnership and pursues only unilateral decision-making may be flawed, missing critical complexities of relationship and power that could shape the future.

But back to something a bit less scary, it’s similar with complex problems and solutions in the typical cycles of business.

Instinctive as the desire to simplify is – indicated by the ‘X is KING’ type articles – the true strength might come from saying that

nothing is king

Because you can only simplify the problems we face by embracing the complexity and understanding it first. You know. Actually thinking.

The next time you see an article – even if it’s about the subject you hold dearest, the one that’s at the end of your email footer, saying ‘THIS SUBJECT IS KING’ or ‘ONLY DO THIS TO CHANGE EVERYTHING’ or ‘THIS IS THE ONE THING YOU MUST CHANGE’.

Just ask: ‘Is it really?’ You’ll soon know if the author has an idea beyond a neat line. And if they can be trusted with complexity.

Because in the world, many things – content, arguments, propositions, and decisions – are sometimes more complex than a title.

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