Doing the work in a complex world

In many (most?) organizations, things get done and improved while the toll, that is not just the monetary cost, keeps rising. There is this famous triangle of: resources, time and quality. To maintain a standard, if one of the variables gets lowered, then the others have to make up for it. For example, if you need to go faster (less time), so you need more resources, otherwise quality will decrease. In an ideal world, when one variable moves down, the others compensate by moving up.

Resources, time and quality

Reality check: we are in a world where everything has to give at the same time. We need to go faster, with less resources, oh, and I forgot, quality needs to be increased as well. This sort of triple bind, Palo Alto system people knew how to deal with it. For Gregory Bateson and his colleagues, when things go that crazy, the way out is to laugh about it. By laughing it off, you maintain your integrity and general homeostasis. More important, you differentiate yourself. It is not because the outside system spirals itself out of control that you need to identify with it. So keep laughing and do your work. Yet, one cannot laugh oneself out of all work situations. To live in a continuous fit of the giggles is not functional either. So what to do?
Please, let us not talk about what to do. We have been “doed” to death for the last few thousand years. It is not about doing anymore, but observing and making choices from a different place. What follows gives some inroads.

1 It is a different world and it is not linear

Until the 90s, one could still describe and explain “life” and “the world” in a linear, causal perspective. This happens because of that, so when you do this, you get that. It was a world full of people who had devised recipes and all you had to do was follow the recipes and “voilà !” Even wars were fought that way. That was before. Now we have Internet and we are all connected. The world and the work and life are not causal and simple any more, they are complex and emergent. All the time. From a concrete perspective, this means that we need to study complexity and apply it at work. This takes us beyond the consecrated field of expertise.

2 One cannot keep on using our brain the twentieth century way

Most of the learning we receive, at least formal learning, is based on the previous paradigm. We have a lot of people who spent years learning how to use a hammer. Once they get let loose of whatever schools they toiled in, the only thing they see around is a bunch of nails. We need to move out of this limbic, automatic approach. A clever and educated brain does not necessarily mean prefrontal and creative. We need to learn, practice and live in a systemic way and do away with the triangle of time, resources and quality mentioned above. We must move out of the previous loop. The learning point is that managers need to understand how a brain works so that they can spot automatic behaviors in others and in themselves.

3 One cannot get mixed up about complexity

Complex is not simple, it is not complicated either. So when we make the mistake of using the wrong tool, we create more chaos. And when complex systems are not well apprehended, they manifest chaos in unexpected ways. It could be somewhere else, right away or a while later, in a subtle or catastrophic way. Action learning programs provide hands-on approaches to dealing with situations that are at the same time simple, complicated and complex.

New avenues for training and development

This opens up new avenues for training and development. We are not that much any more in the world of fixing symptoms as in: “I want a box of ‘better communication’”. We are moving into the paradigm of seeing the system as it is (as it evolves) and how to leverage it. With our neocortex. Of course, learning and practicing complexity may appear frustrating at first, but as soon as the new information kicks in, then we see the world from a different perspective.

Au sujet de l'auteur

Stephane Baillie Gee

Stephane Baillie-Gee is a senior consultant. He works on advanced management and leadership in the scope of organizations of the future. He also helps bridging the communication gap between Western and Chinese cultures and organizations.

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