Archive for the ‘Complexity & change’ Category
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.
Developmental evaluation (DE) offers a powerful approach to monitoring and supporting social innovations by working in partnership with program decision makers. In this book, eminent authority Michael Quinn Patton shows how to conduct evaluations within a DE framework. Patton draws on insights about complex dynamic systems, uncertainty, nonlinearity, and emergence. He illustrates how DE can be used for a range of purposes: ongoing program development, adapting effective principles of practice to local contexts, generating innovations and taking them to scale, and facilitating rapid response in crisis situations. Students and practicing evaluators will appreciate the book’s extensive case examples and stories, cartoons, clear writing style, “closer look” sidebars, and summary tables. Provided is essential guidance for making evaluations useful, practical, and credible in support of social change.
Emergence is what happens when an interconnected system of relatively simple elements self-organizes to form more intelligent, more adaptive higher-level behavior. It’s a bottom-up model rather than being engineered by a general or a master planner, emergence begins at the ground level. Systems that at first glance seem vastly different–ant colonies, human brains, cities, immune systems–all turn out to follow the rules of emergence. In each of these systems, agents residing on one scale start producing behavior that lies a scale above them: ants create colonies, urbanites create neighborhoods. Author Steven Johnson takes readers on an eye-opening intellectual journey from the discovery of emergence to its applications. He introduces us to our everyday surroundings, offering surprising examples of feedback, self-organization, and adaptive learning. Drawing upon evolutionary theory, urban studies, neuroscience, and computer games, Emergence is a guidebook to one of the key components of twenty-first-century culture. Until recently, Johnson explains, the disparate philosophers of emergence have worked to interpret the world. But today they are starting to change it. This book is the riveting story of that change and what it means for the future.
The eurozone, like the rest of the world economy, is a complex networked system. That gives it properties economists rarely consider but which could help us understand the current crisis.
Complex networks have many interconnected components which influence each other’s behaviour. These changes then feed back on each other. A famous example is the numbers of predators and prey in a given environment, which vary in a complex interdependent way. The eurozone – the 17 countries that share a common currency, the euro – is similarly interdependent, with similar feedback mechanisms.
All complex networks are governed by a balance between negative feedback, such as interest rates, which is stabilising, and positive feedback, such as the self-reinforcing erosion of trust in markets, which is destabilising, says physicist Len Fisher at the University of Bristol.
Lean thinking defines value as providing benefit to the customer. Anything else is waste. But what if we really don’t know? Then the most important business process is to find out. We have to learn what creates value for different customers in different situations. “Anything that does not contribute to learning is waste” as Eric Ries puts it. The business challenge for a creative company is to learn fast and cheaply!
Management theory needs to leave behind the industrial, mechanistic model of reality and the belief in linear if-then, causality. The sciences of complexity, non-linear dynamics, uncertainty and creative learning are the foundations of modern, human-centric management.
The task of managers is not the reduction of uncertainty but to develop the capacity to operate creatively within it. Ilya Prigogine wrote in his book “The End of Certainty” that the future is not given, but under perpetual construction: “Life is about unpredictable novelty where the possible is always richer than the real.”
“Many economists will tell you that the chances of something really big and bad happening are really, really small,” Stanley says. But when viewed through a different lens, he contends, catastrophic events — such as Lehman filing for bankruptcy in 2008 — aren’t exceptional but inevitable.
At the time of Lehman’s collapse, Stanley had been exploring the notion that extreme economic events, the bubbles and crashes of financial markets, might be described by a mathematical law — a tidy law, like acceleration due to gravity. And he isn’t the only outsider who has had an eye on the markets. Scientists from a range of fields have been poring over financial data, finding some curious patterns in the process.
These patterns suggest that standard economic models based on the notion of equilibrium — markets will fluctuate but then settle down like the surface of a still pond — may not capture the whole story. Freak events may be a normal part of long-term economic behavior. If that’s true, then the mathematical methods guiding Wall Street’s estimation of risk are seriously flawed, offering a dangerous false sense of security.