Several weeks ago, we aired the second half of our interview with Professor Yaneer Bar-Yam as a part of our podcast series on the complexity of the environment. Bar-Yam shared with us how quickly unintended consequences can ripple throughout our global systems. He provided us with examples, including some fascinating research he conducted with his school, The New England Complex Systems Institute, on the causes of increasing global food prices.
Recently, we shared our podcast interview with Yaneer Bar-Yam who is a complexity scientist, researcher, author, professor, and founder of the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI). Yaneer received his SB and PhD in Physics from MIT and has an extensive background in using principles and insights from complex systems science to better the world. He is the author of two fantastic books: a textbook called Dynamics of Complex Systems and Making Things Work, which applies complex systems science to solving problems in healthcare, education, systems engineering, international development, and ethnic conflict. He is also the author of over 200 research papers in professional journals and has 3 patents.
Often, when we think about global-scale problems, feelings of defeat can creep in on us. The scale and scope of the problems we face as a human race can feel very intimidating and it is easy to want to break each issue down into parts so that they more digestible and less overwhelming to tackle. The problem is that this reductionist approach does more harm than good because each problem is so intertwined with the next. We soon start to encounter unintended consequences from our actions because we are operating within a limited viewpoint and understanding of what is happening and therefore we miss out on what is necessary. James described a tactic he uses to think bigger, called blindspotting. Blindspotting is the driving force behind all of his work and it is essentially an approach he uses to find what has been overlooked because of reductionist thinking. James said, "ultimately, blindspotting can address the neglected gap between the scale of our our responses and the scale of the interconnected challenges".
In our recent podcast episode, we asked a few of our guests to respond to this quote by environmental activist, Annie Leonard. And, we learned from our conversation with our guests that how we think about progress and innovation needs to shift. We need to think about how often we consider the environment as a part of our everyday life. Sustainability should be more than just a goal, or a separate field or industry. It should not be a goal we work towards, but rather an integral part of our everyday lives. It is not the environment, it is our environment, our home, and our livelihood.
In my two last blogs, I wrote about change management and added my expert opinion about starting with oneself and when to apply complexity thinking. Missing from those two blogs, and is often missing in other literature, is a discussion about how challenging change can be. Over the decades I have learned that change is inevitable, continuous, and can seem ambiguous. To help bring clarity and ease, this blog explores change and transition.
As described by the author William Bridges, change is something that you can mark on a calendar—for example, the day you met your life partner, started a new job, or a loved one died. What many people don’t realize is that change can trigger an emotional transition, which is experienced in our head, heart, and gut. It’s the transition that often makes us feel emotional, brings on feelings of vulnerability, and can be hard to comprehend. Successful change actually lies on our ability to get through the transition.
While change management literature tends to be prescriptive and results focused, I believe that coupling complexity theory with change management approaches can help with understanding the continuous change and nonlinearity of today’s organizations. The benefits of applying complexity thinking to organizations, which are complex adaptive systems, can lead to seeing situations from different lenses, developing new and innovative approaches to problems, and gaining a greater appreciation for processes such as safe-to-fail.
Creating lasting change requires a vision, patience, and time. It also requires a cultural shift from one way of being to another. This work in particular is often easier said than done. Why? People are generally averse to change unless they can see how it benefits them. Small shifts in an organization can take years to effect. But, when there is alignment across a system in support of a new initiative, then change can come much faster.
With it being a new year and us exploring the complexity of leadership in our current podcast series, I can't help but think about change management. Change management has various aspects, including adapting to change, controlling change and effecting change, all of which requires effective leadership. AND as any effective leader will admit, successful leadership, related to change management or not, begins with oneself.