We discovered Complexity Labs several months ago after watching educational videos on their Youtube channel. Since then, we have read a number of their complexity related articles and have formed a supportive working relationship with their founder, Joss Colchester. We believe Joss and the Complexity Labs team are making a very important contribution to the complexity and systems thinking communities with their easily accessible learning content. Since Complexity Labs was established a few short years ago, they have made great impact producing over 300 video lessons, which have been viewed 2 million times.
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Angie and I recently attended the WorkHuman Conference in our home town of Austin, Texas. The event is pioneered by Globoforce, a leading provider for social recognition solutions, who is dedicated to creating more human-centered workplaces.
We were eager to attend WorkHuman for many reasons. Their speaker lineup was definitely a major draw, for it included well-known leaders Brene Brown, Shawn Achor, Salma Hayek, Simon Sinek, and Amal Clooney, among others. However, there were more compelling reasons for our excitement. We desired to learn more about this movement, to be a part of their mission and play witness, and to contribute to the conversation with our testimony about how complex system science can help transform workplaces for the better.
As a systems thinker, I don’t ever recall a time that I couldn’t see systems. However, as I was learning about the various complexity terms and aspects, light bulb after light bulb went off, and having the words that explained what I understood gave me more confidence. What I learned from my MA was rich and invaluable, and while it did not result in me being fluent in "complexity speak", the following are some of the terms that have especially resonated with me and continually show up in my work, life, and all the things I do.
We have learned a lot from our podcast interviews and casual conversations about complex adaptive systems. And recently, we have taken a closer look at how we define human intelligence. In the Webster dictionary, "intelligence" is defined as –the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations. But, we feel that this definition and the cultural understanding of this word, limits the holistic nature of true human intelligence.
So, we were curious to learn more about the nuance, scope and scale of human abilities. And began wondering, what does it really mean to be intelligent?
Here are some of our favorite quotes that we believe capture the complexity of true human intelligence:
Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been able to zoom out, per se, to see the big picture or whole system and, at the same time, understand the smaller parts that make up the system. However, it wasn’t until my late 20’s that I realized that not everyone is wired this way and that this ability is referred to as being a “system thinker”. I’ve also learned that people’s level of systems thinking varies across a wide spectrum.
As a curious systems thinker, earning my BA in Organizational Communication deepened my understanding of and ability to be a systems thinker. The following are some of the system thinking approaches that I practiced when earning my degree and continue to use in areas of my life today.
A few weeks ago we shared our interview with system thinker and business evolutionary, Benjamin Taylor, and one of the questions we asked Benjamin was: how much control does a leader truly have when it comes to shaping company culture?
Benjamin's response was very enlightening. He described company culture as "the lived experience of the people", which means it isn't a thing which leaders can control. In fact it isn't a thing at all, rather, it is an intended or unintended consequence which results, in part, from leadership behavior. He emphasized that when leaders seek to shape or engineer a company's culture, they are seeking an unattainable level of control.
So, if leaders have little control in shaping company culture, do they have the power to influence it at all?
I’ve never learned more about the actual organisational systems, and never got bigger change done, than now. We still sometimes write reports – sometimes nice ones – and I get to talk about big ideas. But the real work is making change that matters…
So when I was asked what action, what next step, I would recommend, I jotted down: ‘Learn! Explore! Think! Have a laugh…’ The final step is doubly important – a huge risk in all of this is coming to take yourself too seriously, and coming to lose your joy in the work.
At their core, complexity and design thinking are utilized by people who keep an open-mind, holding space for new perspectives and ideas. They flex their mind muscles with much practice, expanding their points of view by making an effort to, at a minimum, acknowledge other perspectives. These people are curious and their non-linear thinking is driven by emotional intelligence; because there isn’t room for ego, stubbornness, or rigidity when evaluating systems. Using a “systems lens” requires tailored behavior, a fine-tuning of self, in order to gain clarity.