Potential Capability as Determined by Complexity of Information Processing (CIP) Level

The Benefits of Understanding this Concept:

  • You can determine if a job will be appropriately challenging for you or others.
  • You can determine when you or others will be capable of working at a higher level and thus should seek out a promotion.You can time your knowledge and skill building to coincide with changes in capability.You can avoid underutilizing an employee.
  • You will gain an additional perspective on competencies.
  • You can become a more effective manager as well as gain a better understanding of your manager and direct reports.
  • You can determine when training is appropriate and when it won’t make a difference.

There is a maximum level of complexity any given person can deal with at any given time in his career. This determines within which stratum level of an organization the person should be employed for maximum effectiveness and satisfaction. If the job one is trying to perform is above or below his or her current capability, the employee will either be unable to perform the job or bored with it.

The complexity level of any given job is influenced by three items: the number of variables involved, their level of clarity (ranging from concrete and specific to extremely ambiguous), and their rate of change.


Least complex: Repeatedly drilling a hole into a piece of wood as part of an assembly line process.

More complex: Forecasting customer volume at a restaurant and scheduling staff accordingly.

Highly complex: Researching, selecting, installing, testing, and training employees on a new computer system, both software and hardware, at multiple sites.

Extremely complex:  Positioning a global corporation to successfully compete in an emerging technology that is not yet fully defined.

Your ability to handle complexity, or current potential (CP), can be measured and expressed by level in terms of strata. Potential capability can be easily defined as the maximum level at which you could work assuming two things: you wanted to do the work and you had all the necessary knowledge and skills.

Increasing CIP

One’s ability to handle complexity is not static. It matures with age in a predictable manner. A way to accelerate the maturation has not yet been found. For reasons not yet understood, some people mature to a higher level of capability by the end of their careers.

This is why some people desire to move up the corporate ladder to more and more complex jobs (high potential mode), and others are content to stay within one job throughout their career (expert mode). A full appreciation of this concept can help you use your employee training and development dollars most effectively. Knowing an employee’s progression path will point toward one of two strategies: increasing depth of knowledge (expert mode) or breath of knowledge (high potential mode).

Matching People To Jobs

Just as any given person’s current ability to handle complexity (CIP) can be measured and expressed by level in terms of strata, types of work found within organizations vary in complexity and can also be measured and expressed in terms of strata.

Being able to match a person’s current capability or CIP level to the complexity level of a job, which can both be articulated in terms of strata, is the key to organizational efficiency and effectiveness. Knowing this should be at the root of all your selection and succession planning processes.

Judging Current Potential

There are two equally valid ways to judge one’s current potential:

  1. via observation by a trained assessor which is appropriate for assessing external candidates or for aiding in personal career development, or
  2. by using the judgments of one’s manager and manager-once-removed in the Talent Pool Evaluation process which is used for assessing the CIP level of current employees.

For more information on this, see Judging Current Potential.

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