Adapting Our View Of Complexity

“Don’t try to make it too simple too soon.  First, absorb the complexity of the situation, then start looking for simpler perspectives on it.”  -Geoff Bellman

It’s no longer enough to understand that today’s world is becoming much more intricate and complex. We have to come to grips with the idea that this complexity is providing a whole new set of problems and challenges that are beyond what we’ve been able to face and technically conquer in the near past. More and more adaptive problems and challenges are arising out of this complexity and promoting change in a much more rapid and unexpected manner.

It is no longer enough to just react to these radical shifts and changes, we have to learn how to adapt in much more agile and proactive fashion. We have to learn how to detect and connect the obscure and hidden dots that were much more visible in the technical and analytical world that we faced in the past. And we have to do it better and faster, especially as today’s technologically viral world has the tendency to coalesce and transform these dots into unforeseen challenges in rapid fashion.

As Stephen Haines shares, “Technological advances and global communications have shaped today’s dynamic environment, and in order to be successful, living systems—including you as an individual—have to adapt.”

We can no longer just focus on the parts and believe that we will create a well-functioning and healthy whole. Unfortunately, we still tend to approach the whole with an analytical, linear (parts) mindset and wonder why we continue to find ourselves blindsided by the unexpected and unanticipated outcomes. We continue to find ourselves baffled and bewildered by a myriad of unpredicted effects from decisions and directions made through a limited scope and short-term view.

Unfortunately the analytical, linear approach we take to our organizations does not prepare us for the adaptive challenges and problems that will continue to confront us in today’s complex, VUCA world. In fact, the complexities facing modern organizations is anything but neat and well-ordered. Rather, they are messy and uncertain. Which is disrupting the current approaches and leadership ‘best’ practices that have served us well in our organizational past. Methods that are no longer sufficient or effective towards the adaptive problems and challenges that we are and will be facing in the near future.

This is not to say that drawing simplicity out of the chaos and turbulence of complexity is not a significant focus, but inability to see the complexity from a 30,000 foot view will continue to alienate us from a holistic approach towards the complexities of today’s changing world.

Think of it like this…

If we continue to pull the tops off our weeds (while still leaving the roots), then we shouldn’t be surprised when the same weeds keep coming back time after time after time.

Building more structures and processes without understanding and creating better systems will leave us with the same roots (challenges/problems) that have continued to plague us over time. We continue to try and fix parts and believe it will provide a more fine-tuned whole. Unfortunately, in most cases, it creates a whole that functions less effectively. The more we tweak the parts, without having a deep understanding of the whole, the more havoc, challenges and unexpected problems we initiate across the system.

We need to push ourselves back from the short-term considerations that get in the way of long-term success.

Pulling back from this complexity heightens our sensitivity and awareness to how the parts and whole interact in more effective and interdependent ways. When we are able to see the dots and how they interrelate, we make better systems decisions.

We need a view that allows us to push through the noise, chaos and turbulence that is created from the complexity that encapsulates today’s modern world. Which is not an easy task.  It takes a wider, deeper approach. A different way of thinking, especially if we want to achieve different results and outcomes.

Today’s leaders will be responsible for cutting new paths through the noise created from the complexity that blocks and shrouds us from creating stronger and more effective systems.  Paths that are no longer linear or predictable. This new way of pioneering will require us to embark on unknown paths and engage in unforeseen journeys. Which will lead to new views and a new pace to deal with the uncertainty and ambiguity that we will face along the way.

“You can’t ignore the complexity of the world. You have to navigate it and build on it—then simplify it and then find its holistic and integrated core essence.”  -Stephen Haines


Reframing The Uncertainty And Volatility Of Change

“When people in an organization have an implicit understanding of the world around them, they make a thousand better decision every day.” “A thousand better decisions can collectively add up to massive change.”  -Dev Patnaik Wired to Care

In our quest to diminish and mitigate uncertainty, ambiguity and even risk in our organizations, leaders can serve as mama bears protecting, insulating and shielding their people and organizations from the volatility of a changing world and the disruption that it invites. We search for safety in the known and replication of ‘best practices’ to further distance ourselves from the turbulence created by the speed of change swirling around us. As an organization, we circle our wagons against the encroachment of this VUCA world that threatens to unsettle the balance and security we’ve created.

Unfortunately, this can lead to serious organizational ramifications down the road…

First, the inability to uninsulate ourselves and our organizations not only blinds us to the new opportunities that unfold and become accessible during these times of rapid change, but causes a deteriorating alignment between our organization and the society that is shifting around us. A misalignment that often erodes into unexpected disruption or eventual irrelevance and obsolescence.

Second, the cocoon of safety that we’ve determined to create in order to better protect our individuals and organizations from the volatility and uncertainty of this shifting world often becomes the point of weakness that diminishes capacity and ongoing growth. The more we shield our people and organizations from the ongoing stresses of change as an ongoing occurrence, the more difficult the impact of change becomes and the more we ground ourselves in inertia and status quo. Instead of this protective posture providing security and strength, it actually creates frailty and weakness across the entirety of the organization.

To better equip our people and organizations to deal with the uncertainty and volatility of change, we are going to need to reframe our perspective…

We are going to have to make a shift not only in how we deal with the stresses and effects of change, but how important it will be to engage a better awareness of the changes that are occurring in the world around us. Otherwise, we will continue to design systems that are misaligned and ineffective for our people and our organization.

The work of today’s modern leader, is not only learning how to better equip their people and organizations to deal with the panacea of challenges that are brought on by the new pace of change, but reframing our perspective towards this process to strengthen our organization to the stresses these challenges will bring forth.

As well as understanding not only what a reframe is, but when it is necessary and needed.

Dev Patnaik shares in Wired to Care that, “A reframe is more than an insight or an interesting nugget of data. It’a fundamental shift in thinking about how the world works. A reframe doesn’t just shed light on a situation – it invalidates previous models for how the world works.”

He adds, “A reframe can be a momentous, disorienting experience.  That’s because it’s so far removed from our own experiences.” Or as he puts forth, “a reframe flips the entire world on its head.”

Unfortunately, in many instances to unentangle ourselves from the stasis and status quo in which we find ourselves embedded, a reframe is necessary for an organization to better see and align with a world that is shifting in an unexpected and exponential manner.

And sometimes, if we really want to tap into the opportunity that chaos and this VUCA world is invoking, we need to “flip the entire world on its head.”

It is only in this flip, that the opportunity that lies before us finally becomes apparent…

Our Modern ‘Jurassic’ World

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” -Dr. Ian Malcom Jurassic Park

When we look at our turbulent, often chaotic, shifting world from a holistic, 30,000 foot systems view, we come to the realization that we must begin to uninsulate ourselves from the cocoon we create, from the buffer bubble that shields and protects us from today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world. We have to begin to acknowledge the reverberations rolling out from rapid changes within our ecosphere and how they are affecting our societal systems in a myriad of intense and often unexpected ways.

This is not to say that these changes are necessarily bad, but they do come with ramifications. Which is why the opening quote is so central for considering this shifts we are and will face in today’s fast-moving modern society. When we lose a systems perspective and become so fixated on moving forward, we can be blindsided by the myriad of minor shifts that ultimately gain momentum and cascade into giant tsunamis.

And a tsunami it will be, if we don’t recognize how the current shifts in our systems are upending our current view of education and society in dramatic and exponential ways…

Let’s begin with two examples that have the ability to invoke resounding ramifications upon the future as we currently see it:

In a 2012 Forbes article Andrew MacAfee of MIT sounds the alarm on the “acceleration of digitized labor,” one of which many of us have failed to notice. In which he shares that “technology is being injected into the economy at such a staggering rate that there is a decreasing need for human workers.” For which he adds, “the comparative advantage of human labor over machines is washing away before our eyes.” He even points to the work of a company called Narrative Science and their ability to actually write stories from an algorithm (which has only become possible in the last few years). So the question that he puts forth to us is, “So what are we to do, as more and more jobs are lost to this entirely new species of highly skilled machine?”

And it doesn’t end there…

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Oxford researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne share that they, “estimate that 47% of all U.S. jobs were ‘at-risk’ of being computerized over the next twenty years.” They are not talking 5 or even 10 years down the line…rather, just 2 years! The article focused on how they are now teaching robots to learn how to cook (which you may or may not determine to be a big deal), except that the robots “are learning how to cook and follow human instructions, instead of needing to be programmed for each specific task.” In fact, they were creating what they called a “robotics knowledge service.” From which they ask the same question that Andrew MacAfee puts forth, “As machines increasingly perform complex tasks once thought to be safely reserved for humans, the question has become harder to shrug off: What jobs will be left for people?”

It is these advances, these shifts, and these questions, that ultimately require us to uninsulate ourselves from the cocoon that has shielded us from a society that is moving and changing at an exponential rate. The definition of college and career ready is changing right before our very eyes.

And it begs the question…

How are we preparing our children, our students, to be agile and adaptable enough to create their own momentum and velocity to keep pace in a world that is very different than the world we grew up in?