the willing embrace of complexity

Money Magazine recently carried excerpts from the new book by Lafley and Charan, The Game-Changer. Lafley is famous round these parts for two reasons: 1) having given a papal blessing to ethnographic methods in the world of corporate research, 2) having introduced a kind of complexity theory to his approach to management.

Almost everything in the excerpt appears to be well thought and well said, but I particularly liked a couple of passages. Both insists in casting the net wider, in the first case, to encompass more actors in the innovation process, in the second, to embrace more parts of the consumer in the research process.

This is the willing embrace of complexity, a manager making his world more complicated, his job more difficult. I think, Lafley and Charan are right to say that real opportunity comes from bigger pictures of this kind. But notice we are now taxing the manager’s powers of pattern recognition ever more substantially. Anyhow, here are the quotes:

On the structure of innovation:

Long known for a preference to do everything in-house, we began to seek out innovation from any and all sources. Innovation is all about connections, so we get everyone we can involved: P&Gers past and present, customers, suppliers, even competitors. The more connections, the more ideas; the more ideas, the more solutions.

On the old regime of research:

P&G was talking to a lot of people, but not listening to them. The company also tended to narrow in on only one aspect of the consumer – for example, her mouth for oral-care products, her hair for shampoo, her loads of dirty clothes for laundry detergents (most P&G consumers are women). P&G had essentially extracted the consumer (and at times a particular body part as well!) from her own life and focused on what was most important to the company – the product or the technology.

For ethnographic purposes, I would argue that we can and must “dolly back” from the consumers ever further, that we must see the consumer in a series of contexts that embrace her social life (lives) and cultural world(s). It is not clear to me that this part of the ethnographic enterprise has reached P&G revolution. Which is to say there is still more complexity to come.


Lafley, A.G. and Ram Charan. 2008. The Game-Changer. New York: Crown Business

For the Fortune excerpt, go here.

To order The Game-Changer at, go here.

One thought on “the willing embrace of complexity”

  1. It will be very interesting to see how much and effectively they can change their game. Coming from the big, bad world of consumer advertising (where I spent my misspent youth), I wonder if it’s possible. These huge-ass companies are big and lumbering and profoundly resistant to change. True innovation was rarely rewarded; most of the great work we did, we snuck through.

    To steal the oldest, dumbest cliché from my day, if you want Nike advertising, you’ve got to be able to recognize it and willing to buy it. (Only, you know, replace “Nike” with something that’s the arbiter of cool today.)

    Most of the people up and down the chain weren’t so much with the bravery. The people at the very top (sometimes) and the people at the very bottom (sometimes). Which ain’t enough for a revolution.

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