Archive for the ‘Complexity & change’ Category
Surviving and thriving in a multifaceted world requires a multifaceted change strategy. Paraphrasing Ashby’s law of requisite variety, there must be more variety in the change strategy than in the system you are trying to change.
So how do we change a complex organization to meet the challenges of this new world of exploding information, increasing uncertainty, and ever-increasing complexity? While there is certainly no simple answer—since change is situation and time-dependent—the change process for an organization moving toward becoming an intelligent complex adaptive system must engage every individual in the organization as well as external partners. Since organizational networks of people and knowledge have become more and more interconnected and more and more complex as the world has become more global, the larger an organization the more a self-organizing change strategy must come into play.
A change strategy sets out to achieve what we call a connectedness of choices. This means that decisions made at all levels of the organization, while different, are clearly based not only on a clear direction for the future, but made in a cohesive fashion based on an understanding of both why that direction is desirable and the role that individual decisions play with respect to immediate objectives and their support of the shared vision. At the top level, a continuous increase of knowledge and sharing based on a common direction of the organization and a common set of beliefs and values is the theoretical force behind the change strategy.
While all decisions are a guess about the future, as complexity builds upon complexity decision-makers must increasingly rely on their intuition and judgment. This chapter explores the decision-making process for complex situations in a complex environment (complex adaptive messes) in terms of: laying the groundwork for decision-making, understanding and exploring complex situations, discussing human additive factors, preparing for the decision process and mechanisms for influencing complex situations. Laying the groundwork introduces the concepts of emergence, the butterfly effect, the tipping point, feedback loops and power laws. Mechanisms for influencing complex situations include structural adaptation, boundary management, absorption, optimum complexity, simplification, sense and respond, amplification, and seeding. The authors forward that decision-makers may be able to construct a strategy that guides problem resolution through a sequence of decisions and actions leading toward an acceptable solution.
What does conscious leadership look like in action? I’ve spent the last two years researching this question, specifically exploring how change agents with complex worldviews design and lead complex change initiatives. The bottom line is that these individuals represent less than 5% of the population, and in some cases, less than 1%. They are true outliers in how they see and understand not only the world around them, but also their own inner experience. The leaders I researched in my Ph.D. dissertation have achieved a level of development that represents the farthest reaches of what science can currently measure. I was curious to discover how these people actually lead. What do they look like in action when they engage with today’s intense societal challenges?
This group includes senior executives from global companies and the UN system, as well as NGO directors and consultants. The long-term purpose of this research is to support the creation of advanced leadership development strategies that can help address the global economic, social, and environmental challenges humanity faces. If humankind is to succeed in crucial objectives such as those articulated by the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, we will need to employ some new strategies.
In a world fraught with uncertainty, what are today’s CEOs doing to strengthen their situations against competitors?
Previously, CEOs have consistently identified change as their most pressing challenge. Today, CEOs are telling us that the complexity of operating in an increasingly volatile and uncertain world is their primary challenge. And, a surprising number of them told us that they feel ill-equipped to succeed in this drastically different world.
How are leaders dealing with this level of complexity? What strategies are the most successful organizations employing to tap into new opportunities, and overcome the barriers to growth? To find out, we conducted over 1500 face-to-face interviews—the largest known study of its kind with CEOs from companies of all sizes across 60 countries, representing 33 industries.
Read also: Report
The decline in resources available to support societal complexity will generate a centrifugal force breaking up existing economic and governmental power structures everywhere. As a result there is a fight brewing—a protracted and intense one, impacting most countries if not all—over access to a shrinking economic pie. It will manifest not only as competition among nations, but also as conflicts within nations between power elites and the increasingly impoverished masses.
As economies contract, a global popular uprising confronts power elites over access to the essentials of human existence. What are the underlying dynamics of the conflict, and how is it likely to play out? As the world economy crashes against debt and resource limits, more and more countries are responding by attempting to salvage what are actually their most expendable features—corrupt, insolvent banks and bloated militaries—while leaving the majority of their people to languish in “austerity.” The result, predictably, is a global uprising.
“… Leadership exists when people are no longer victims of circumstances but participate in creating new circumstances. Leadership is about creating a domain in which human beings continually deepen their understanding of reality and become more capable of participating in the unfolding of the world.”
In our blindness to our own power as participants and co-creators—as leaders—in “community,” we too often give up our right and responsibility to co-author the narrative of our lives. “‘Leadership,'” Palmer once wrote, “is a concept we often resist. It seems immodest, even self-aggrandizing, to think of ourselves as leaders. But if it is true that we are made for community, then leadership is everyone’s vocation, and it can be an evasion to insist that it is not. When we live in the close-knit ecosystem called community, everyone follows and everyone leads.”
An overview of the complexity leadership literature is provided. This includes a history of complexity theory and its core concepts, the central propositions of complexity leadership, a review of six prominent frameworks, and a summary of practitioner guidelines. The article also discusses two key limitations to complexity theory: the need to supplement it with other epistemologies and leadership approaches, and the importance of recognizing that its sustained execution likely requires a developmentally mature meaning-making system. The conclusion is that complexity leadership offers a fresh and important way of perceiving and engaging in the management of complex organizational behavior, one which may help leaders to address the most pressing and complex social, economic, and environmental challenges faced globally today.
Business schools and organizations equip leaders to operate in ordered domains (simple and complicated), but most leaders usually must rely on their natural capabilities when operating in unordered contexts (complex and chaotic). In the face of greater complexity today, however, intuition, intellect, and charisma are no longer enough. Leaders need tools and approaches to guide their firms through less familiar waters.
In the complex environment of the current business world, leaders often will be called upon to act against their instincts. They will need to know when to share power and when to wield it alone, when to look to the wisdom of the group and when to take their own counsel. A deep understanding of context, the ability to embrace complexity and paradox, and a willingness to flexibly change leadership style will be required for leaders who want to make things happen in a time of increasing uncertainty.
Change is in the air, and most people can tell. The economy has undergone some serious disruptions. Marketers are starting to say that companies need to start speaking with, and actually listening to, their customers in order to survive. Protest movements, from Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street, are popping up without central leadership. The open source movement questions the very idea of proprietary technology.
While some people think that these disruptions are temporary, others think they are signs of the future. Peggy Holman is one of these thinkers, and I share her position. In Engaging Emergence, she talks about how the new science of complexity applies to these types of organizations.
Could organic networks replace a strict chain of command? As you’ll see, it’s a definite possibility. In some places, it’s already happening.