The Canvas Or The Checklist?

“One and one may well make two, but to really understand two we must know both about the nature of “one” and the meaning of “and.” –Miller and Page Complex Adaptive Systems

Take a minute to allow that quote to sink in…

It may very well be one of major challenges and obstacles facing our leadership in today’s modern world. We are so focused on layering on the linear and predictable to produce simple and safe answers, we have failed to understand that the questions and the complexity of our situation and organizations have completely changed.

In other words, very often one and one, no longer make two.

We are coming into this realization that our current mental models are often inadequate to effectively face this cascading shift from [technical] to [adaptive] challenges. And for these reasons, we are going to have to learn to work more effectively from this immense and turbulent chasm that lies between inertia and chaos.

Or as Otto Scharmer shares in his work Theory U, “In order to deal with emerging complexity, we have to learn to drop our old tools in order to attend to and operate from the perspective of the “blank canvas” – that is, the source where organizational value is created.”

As we allow our thinking and boundaries of our organizations to expand and evolve more fluidly into the future, new models and ideas of how the world works will begin to emerge and take shape. We will learn to outgrow the boxes that we have created towards solving the problems and challenges that we will face in this exponentially shifting future. We will begin to push past ingrained ideas and perspectives that hold us back from Scharmer’s “blank canvas” thinking.

Otherwise, as we have seen in the past, we will find ourselves pushing and confining the very creativity and innovation that we seek, into more checklists, more manuals, and more binders that do little to prepare us for the adaptive challenges that lie ahead.

“For high performance organizations to evolve, leaders have to extend their focus of attention from processes to using the ‘blank canvas’ dimensions of leadership. They must help people access their sources of inspiration, intuition, and imagination.” –Otto Scharmer Theory U


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