The Math of VUCA: How Many Ways Can You Combine 6 Lego Bricks?

We live in a world of increasing VUCA.  Not least of all just because of pure math.

Think of the math involved in growing your team by adding people.

If two of us start a business today, we have one person-to-person conversation to manage. If we add a third person tomorrow, now we have three person to person conversations to manage. A fourth person the day after takes us to six conversations. Then a fifth person takes us to 10 conversations, a sixth person to 15 conversations, and a seventh person to 21 conversations! That last person adds six new conversations to manage, and so on. So the flow of detail complexity and dynamic complexity [= the source of VUCA] increases exponentially, just with our simple math of growth. That’s before taking into account the increasing diversity of personalities, agendas, clients, products, partners, vendors, markets, geographies, alliances, among many, many other things, as well.

Rather than thinking about your business as a collection of people, let’s consider it as a collection of building blocks – maybe functions, departments, products, processes etc.  Like lego bricks:

Consider 6 lego bricks – the two-by-four kind of the same color.  How many different ways can you combine those bricks in different permutations?  Given the discussion above of the math of expanding a team, perhaps you are getting with the program.  Maybe you guess 6 squared = 36?   Or if you are really on a roll, maybe you guess 6 to the power of 6 = 46,656?  Nope.  The correct answer is 915,103,765!  Nearly 1 billion!  Don’t believe me?  Read more here:  A Lego Counting Problem.

Or, if you prefer, think of your business as a 3D Rubik’s Cube:

Consider the 27 blocks (3X3X3) of a Rubik’s Cube.  How many different permutations are there?  Given the discussion of lego bricks above, maybe you are now really getting with the program.  Maybe you guess 10 billion?  In other words 10 followed by 9 zeros.  Nope, you are missing a few zeros.  The correct answer is 43 Quintillion!  That’s 43 followed by 18 zeros!  Don’t believe me?  Read more here:  Mathematics of the Rubik’s Cube.

“God’s Number”

Google donated 36 years of idle computer time to solve the question of, “what is the smallest number of moves required to solve the 3x3x3 Rubik’s Cube from any one of the 43 Quintillion permutations of a starting position?”.  The so called, “God’s Number”.  The answer?  Only 20!

In other words, from any starting position, if you know what you are doing, recognize the patterns and start making the right moves, complexity reduces rapidly and you can solve the Rubik’s Cube in 20 moves or less.  If you don’t know what you are doing, don’t recognize the patterns and start making the wrong moves, you can stay lost in complexity and be a busy fool for a very long time!

It’s the same with agility.

Is it any wonder that we experience increasing VUCA when the math of our business variables mushrooms so quickly beyond our comprehension?

Yet, from any starting position, by recognizing the patterns and making a few right moves, complexity reduces rapidly and you can confidently solve the puzzle of VUCA and Agility. Or not and you can stay lost in complexity and be a busy fool for a very long time!

Begin the process by participating in The VUCA Report at The Strategic Agility Institute.


About Mike Richardson
Agility-Facilitator/Mentor/Coach; Agility-Author/Speaker; Agility-Board-Member/Chairman. All-round Agility Activist in everything I do, every day, everywhere, in every way. Provocative, Profound, Practical. At Eye-Level. With Love/Hate! More: www.agilitycode.com