Leadership for Complexity

The other meme from the retreat event last weekend was the notion of leadership for complexity.  A few of us decided to workshop a topic around performance, leadership, and technology.  We realized technology was only a means to an end, and the real issue was how to move organizations to optimal performance (e.g. the Coherent Organization).

We talked through how things are moving from complicated to complex (and how important it is to recognize the difference), and that organizations need to receive the wake-up call and start moving forward.  Using the Cynefin model, the value will not come from the simple (which should be automated) nor the complicated (which can be outsourced), but from dealing with the complex (and chaotic).  This won’t come from training and top down management. As I’ve said before, optimal execution will only be the cost of entry, and the differentiator (and hence the value) will be continual evaluation. And that comes from a creative and collaborative workforce.  The issue really is to recognize the need to seize new directions, and then execute the change.

One concern was whether we were talking evolution or revolution.  Rather than taking an either or, I was inclined to think that you needed revolutionary thinking (I like Kathy Sierra’s take on this), but that you fundamentally can’t revolutionize an organization short of total replacement (“blood on the streets” as one colleague gleefully put it :).  I reckoned a committed change initiative to the place the revolutionary thinking pointed was what was needed.

The issue, then, is the vision and guidance to get there.  What’s needed is leadership that can lead the organization to be able to leverage complexity for success.  This will be about equipping and people to work together on shared goals: sharing, commenting, contributing, collaborating, and more.  It will be inherently experimental in an ongoing way.

What that means practically is an exercise I (and we) are continually working on, but we’ve coalesced on the top-level frameworks to form the basis of tools, and I think what’s needed are some organizations to co-develop the solutions.  Design-based research] if you will. So who’s up for working on the path to the future?


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