How Do We Navigate Complexity within Complexity?

Technology has created disruption outside and inside organizations today. Ignoring it as a passing phase leads an organization to the risk of being made obsolete and trying to reverse the trends, to fight the momentum is futile, the walls have been breached. But this complexity that’s transforming business isn’t the only one and frankly isn’t the most disruptive. The very platform all organizations and organisms are on is being disrupted; Climate change – a passing phase? Reverse the trends? Is it too late?

I recently sat in a presentation on global sustainability where this graphic and the details of a scientific study were shared.

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Source: Oxfam. The 11 dimensions of the social foundation are illustrative and are based on governments’ priorities for Rio+20. Based on the planetary boundaries set out by Rockström et al (2009b)

The graphic, a 2D rendering of a 3D model reveals that already 3 of the ecological boundaries that we should not breach… have been breached; climate change, loss of biodiversity, and the altering of the natural nitrogen cycle. Some scientists like James Lovelock have stated that we’re past the tipping point. There is no hope. Game over. No going back. If true, there is no time to waste in hoping and praying. Even activities like recycling and lowering greenhouse gas emissions, although beneficial, won’t stop what has begun; climate change is now a self reinforcing loop.

According to Lovelock we must now prepare for, rather than try to prevent, a world of continual and unpredictable change. This is not merely a complex problem it’s a state of perpetual complexity, our new habitat?

Dave Snowden developed the Cynefin framework to help in understanding 4 habitats (Obvious, Complicated, Complex, and Chaotic). In complexity, “the agents and the system constrain one another, especially over time. This means that we cannot forecast or predict what will happen.” Sounds about as right for climate change as it does for disruption in business.

Dave Snowden further points out, that in complexity we only really know what right looks like in hindsight. Therefore to navigate complexity he says we must take a probe-sense-respond approach. Many interpret this as the new business mentality but if our world becomes increasingly unstable it’s a mentality we must all have; Business, Government, workers, and citizen. We must all play collective roles beyond decision-making around ecological choices now and take similar action in observing and reporting thought various channels and networks the change we see happening in order to respond accordingly.

Maybe then all this disruptive technology and the principles it is awakening are coincidentally appearing at the same time we reach the most disruptive time in human history?

  • Social technology fueling focused global information sharing (see the work done where Twitter is used to sense earthquakes before seismologists can)
  • Trusted networks aid in the open analysis of data and sense-making
  • Personal Knowledge Management and Curation become the key skills to be learned
  • The 70:20:10 principle guides better decisions in organizational learning in order to remain agile
  • Big Data keeps the pulse on more than the business climate

Much of this is happening of course but probably not at the scale it needs to or needs to be shared to become the default skills and approaches. If the stage is set and the new normal is global complexity, then it will now require us to step back, patiently allow the patterns to unfold, and with greater connectivity of people and data I’m optimistic solutions will emerge.

 

 

 

 

 

Vox Populi (part 2)

Since my post Vox Populi was written and shared I have had the fortunate opportunity to have three casual meetings with some local folks wanting to chat about social and social organizations.  I’ll share some generalizations and themes I picked up on.

For starters the people I met with were in traditional leadership roles in organizations providing health care services, education/training and project management. When I broached the topic of social organizations with one, the response was: “I don’t even know the full spectrum of what it all means.”  As I dug deeper into this response with them, the conversation went broader not deeper. Ideas around hierarchy, leadership, social, networks, Wirearchy, trust, conversation, communication, and learning were surfaced and it was clear to me that in a world of fast flowing information, those in the trenches of work have only scraped the surface of these notions and have a cursory understanding. To many then it’s all just disconnected jargon. I tried to synthesize it into a single word and the one I chose was “autonomy.”  I expanded on this by saying how power, aided by technology, has shifted to the individual – yet individuals don’t often take advantage of this shift and neither are organizations. In many cases both are limited by old world thinking about power structures or just comfortable in the current state; change can be scary.

An explanation of what is happening today, not happening and needs to happen can be found in Jon Husband‘s principle of Wirearchy.  This principle provides guidance to all facets of being both a citizen and a worker today. I recommend strongly one reads it.

A theme I picked up on that was present in many of the conversations can best be summarize as “work moves at the speed of trust.” Several spoke of 1. decision-making in a vacuum, 2. the all to familiar business unit “silos” and 3. competition over collaboration. Simply put – 1. Employees were not trusting their leaders, 2. leaders were not trusting their employees and 3. employees were not trusting each other. In each case work, productivity and innovation were hindered as openness and transparency are severely lacking in their environments.

Each in their own way made it clear that change in their settings to a more social organization appeared to be a daunting if not impossible task.  And maybe still stinging from the recent recession or the fact that Syracuse is not an economic juggernaut, these folks didn’t appear empowered to be change agents as the status quo has a firm grip on the mindset of organizations. I look forward to many more conversations like this, different industries and different levels to see the very valuable perspectives of the Vox Populi (the voice of the people).

The Long Tailers of Social Business

Social business talk hasn’t progressed much beyond what it is or how it’s done. Jon Husband noted this in a brilliant and succinct post back in 2013 where he said that “most of the conversation circulating and re-cycling regarding [social business] … what ‘social business’ is and/or is not, how to do it right, or in 7 easy steps, or with pizzazz and ROI and why it’s changing everything (or nothing at all)

What has changed however in the past 2 years is that the idea of Social Business, like Social Media, has been further positioned by large firm Marketing and Advertising departments as their charge. Markets are conversations so says the ClueTrain Manifesto and so shortsighted marketing and sales have moved to “Social Business” strategies which mostly just employing social technology with the same push information tactics.

Social LongtailHowever where social sincerely exists are those businesses on the long tail . Organizations here, the smaller more niche players, are more often inherently, unconsciously and positively social inside and out. Their business survival is predicated on a meritocracy over hierarchy, openness, trust, feedback and transparency – it’s here where the soil is most fertile.

Social Business, (what we do) can’t survive long without firm roots in a Social Organization (who we are).

For the larger, market dominating organizations, they turn to social technology (like any other technology) to fix problems vs. prevent them. Inside these organizations social tools are applied in a futile effort to open communication for knowledge sharing, a cure for their social atrophy. However the best opportunity for social technology inside has passed, the arteries are now clogged by competition, policy, procedures and rigid hierarchy.

Social technology may be best as preventative medicine vs. the miracle cure.

It’s the Long Tailers that need to understand this and move quickly to stay who they are. But to stay small as they grow larger, technology alone won’t be enough – social requires people and a holistic approach. They should also employ a Change Prevention strategy (vs. Change Management), maybe a new internal role of an Unchanging Officer to help leaders see their culture today and the big picture potential of social tools beyond communication and knowledge sharing. A well crafted change prevention strategy can anchor their progressive culture and help maintain the healthy status quo.

It’s far too easy for long tail business leaders to fall into established, yet floundering, 20th century practices as they grow. There are still many visible, seductive monuments of this past success and misguided social business approaches.

Long Tailers must act now for there is much to lose if they don’t change.

 

 

Demand for Change Takes More Than Just Want of It.

The word Demand at first glance seems pretty simple. A phrase like “I demand your attention” makes it appears to mean a strong want or desire. Demand in financial terms has a different meaning though and one I think is more accurate than a mere want. Demand in a transactional context is the ability and willingness to pay for goods or services. So, in this definition to demand something is not just in having the means but also the intention to let go of something of value (money) for something else perceived as being more valuable.

I like this definition as it relates to what I see in regards to an organization or individual’s desire to becoming more open and transparent. Many people understand and believe in the benefits of this type of change and it too is a transaction but within one’s self. Leaders in particular have the ability to change their organization’s direction due to their power and influence (“money”) however they often lack the other part of the equation, the willingness to completely let go of the comfort of the known and status quo they also value.

Demand then is not just a strong want. Just wanting it and believing in it is a good first step but real demand is a commitment having two parts, ability and willingness.

Like money, change too only has value when it’s moving. Transformation is transactional.

 

The Simple Shift

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Over the past few years, blessed by rich experiences and conversation, my beliefs and practices started to change. I no longer saw organizational learning as something unique, I was seeing it as a part of a whole, working in synchronicity with all other elements of an organization. I have come to see learning as a part of the work we do and not apart from it. When we look at the majority of learning in and through the work we do it is authentic and impactful. When the work is meaningful and challenging like this, we are motivated, even excited and when we are truly passionate we want to include others. Social technology serves to do just that, invite people in to see, comment, contribute and improve. It seems so simple, yet for over 5 years I have been reading much of the same thing about the future of work. Much is written on what it will be, where and who we will need to be to thrive, yet the how is the challenge. I believe it really comes down to being human and all the elements that make up that humanity; kindness, empathy, trust, conversation, etc. We have unfortunately placed decades of hierarchy, departmentalization, machinery, and political layers over this humanity, burying what makes work actually work.

The world has grown more complex and we can’t navigate complexity with even more complexity, the same tools that can free us often enslave us. We need to muster the strength and courage to seek simplicity and cut through the noise and distraction. Organizations, like individuals, are unique. As Dave Snowden noted in his Cynefin framework – in complexity we only know what right looks like after the fact.  Our route to success then hinges on our ability to make sense of it all as quickly as we can, we have it within us, we just need to get outside of us.

The pivot graphic, like a dance step, was the perfect image for my space on the Web ; The Simple Shift. Dancing is natural, all humans are moved by music. The steps can happen easily with the rhythm of the music if we don’t over think it. For those who can do it, it appears effortless with the biggest skill, not being in knowing where to place ones feet, but just in having the courage to get out there and be one’s self.

I’ve put my love of learning into perspective. My thoughts, writing, and practice have really turned inward as I started to see that it’s the simple shift that needs to be made, One that starts with a better understanding of who we are and how critical that is to make it all work in our work.