Ways to Visualize the Complexity

Let’s face it, our business environments are becoming more global and more complex. As Patty mentioned recently, it is helpful to create a visual to explain your change solution.

One additional tool that is helpful to put a complex problem into perspective is a mind map. When creating a mind map, you brainstorm all of the words and ideas you think of when considering the problem at hand. In the mind map diagram, you include all of those factors that are influencing your current state in such a way as to encourage collaboration, with everyone offering the key words and images that come to mind when they think about the current world.

I found it fascinating that a computer scientist used the mind mapping technique to try to solve the Greek debt problem. According to a recent Planet Money podcast,

…in 2009, the Greek finance ministry called in an unlikely hero: A methodical, computer science professor at Athens University, Diomidis Spinellis.

Spinellis tackled the problems like it was programming challenge…. Spinellis’s mind map illustrated in a precise, clean manner why Greece is missing so much of its tax revenue.

First on the mind map. Locate the tax evaders, he thought, and improve tax collection. It should be easy, because wherever he looked in the data, he saw tax evasion.

For instance, a corporation often lists its shareholders and their compensation. Those shareholders also reported their income for their taxes. So he used a computer program to check that the numbers matched — the reported income should not be less than the compensation. But, Spinellis’s program … found hundreds of thousands of cases of potential tax fraud….

So Spinellis added a new item to the mind map. Management issues at regional tax offices.

Spinellis wrote a small program that would extract each day’s performance data from every single tax office. It recorded information on how much revenue was collected, how many cases were closed, the number of days it took to close a case, etc. It also kept a list of the tax offices that had not closed a single case that day. There were hundreds of them.

…two years in, Spinellis had a disturbing thought. A new item on his mind map. Fixing Greece’s tax system, and ultimately making the Greek economy work, was not a matter of tweaking his computer programs. It was not an information problem. It was a culture problem.

If the people don’t want to pay taxes, the collectors don’t want to collect, and the politicians don’t want to punish them, perhaps Greece needs more than a mind map.

Hopefully the outcome of your mind mapping exercise will be more fruitful than Professor Spinellis’; however, I did like the iterative nature of his example in terms of continuing to dig into the real root cause of the problem, while also considering alternative options to govern and encourage the change he wanted to see in his country!

About Michelle Smeby

Michelle Smeby is CEO of wHolistic Change, Inc. with more than 10 years of experience implementing enterprise solutions at Fortune 100 companies. Michelle specializes in helping corporations deliver transformational change.
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