In our upcoming episode, we share our interview with the co-author of Embracing Complexity: Strategic Perspectives for an Age of Turbulence, Jean Boulton, who is also an academic and management consultant, specializing in complexity theory. Our conversation with her was very rich, covering concepts from how complexity thinking compares to systems thinking, change management, complexity as a worldview, and even how this field is shining a light on climate change. We covered a lot of ground in the time we had with her, although we wish we could have talked longer. Her humility and brilliance were captivating and just minutes into our conversation, we realized that she lives and breathes complexity, using this worldview to frame how she thinks, feels and acts.
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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.
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.
Complexity runs like a current through our lives and nature without respect for the boundaries and mental borders we create, and we hope that through gaining a better understanding of how it works, we can relax a little more with a little less need for control in the sandboxes in which we play. We want to share what we learn because we believe just thinking this way will make us smarter and happier.
Complexity simply is...
Network mapping can show the relationship of things to things, things to events, ideas to actions. If nothing ever changed and you plotted your life on a timescale, it would be a flat line. Lack of diversity makes life flat--lacking dimension, the opposite of dynamic.
If you looked at a line directly from its end, all you would see is a point. If you were lucky. Again: depending on your vantage point you can turn a straight line into a single point using perception alone....
“Just as scientists, doctors, veterinarians, and engineers study and create systems, leaders must study, change, and create cultures.” The tricky part for leaders is that a culture is also a system--well, it’s many systems working together. So, they have to confront all the underlying systems which shape culture including: values, support systems, social norms, processes, feedback, and rewards systems. It’s daunting, but not impossible. Recognizing that all these systems influence and support company culture is the first step tochange.
It is also important to recognize that culture is not the “job” of one department, or a couple of people. It is a collective effort supported by guiding principles. Silos can ruin culture.
As an example, here are some key areas of focus for crafting a wellness culture within the systems that guide human behavior....
Alan Watts said, “The more a thing tends to be permanent, the more it tends to be lifeless.”
But does permanence dictate that a thing be unchanging in essence? Matter persists through different states, and in its mutability and diversity it defies oblivion. Death destroys a star and creates a galaxy. Permanence does not mean without change. Change is a force of nature that creates diversity through interrelationship. Without diversity, a system destroys itself and new forms fill its space.
While human beings may disagree on the efficacy of pursuing permanence, resilience is another matter--or at least, another state....
The universe abhors too much sameness. When you sense that parts of you or your efforts are stagnant, or, not synthesizing new experiences into your character or your work, do you notice those subtle feelings of self-loathing? It happens the same way in any network: a culture, a household, a team, a country. Individuals turn against their own identity structures. Cancers form. Relationships become a battle of projections. Societies polarize. Either way the eventual result is change.
Proximity creates pressure. So when the pathways of a network are limited, pressure builds up and diversity, essential for a complex system's survival, disappears. Movement is limited. Tension increases....