Practicing in Complexity

Ideas I have found useful

Success in navigating complexity requires a particular outlook or mindset, which includes a commitment to staying in the present as much as possible. I’m always surprised at how challenging my monkey brain makes it to do that. Staying in the moment requires letting go any worries about the future and any assessments from the past. That’s not to suggest we shouldn’t have dreams or aspirations, nor is it to imply that the past doesn’t have anything to teach us, but if we are totally in the here and now, that is not the focus.

This outlook has a number of salient elements. To the experienced practitioner, there is nothing new in this brief list, though perhaps it is new to arrange these ideas in this way, in this context. There are most likely other features, characteristics, and practices that are useful; these are the ones I find myself turning to most frequently.

Self-awareness is essential for all in the system, including the practitioner and intervener. Questions to build self-awareness include: How am I showing up? How do I want to show up? What am I observing about my impact? Am I checking how it aligns with my intent? What is the work I need to do to better align my intent with my impact?

Humble leadership is leadership that places a premium on curiosity, inquiry, and stewardship. “Humble” does not mean shy and retiring or lacking in confidence. It is possible to be curious and decisive, vulnerable and sure-footed. Humble leadership requires a very deep, quiet, and strong sense of confidence that is readily evident in one who practices it.

Conversation The skills of real conversation are lacking in many of our relationships, groups, and organizations. These skills connect directly to self awareness and humble leadership and have a great deal more to do with listening and empathy than they do with big vocabulary, clever phrasing, and public speaking.

Unpacking these practice elements, we uncover these kinds of skills:

  • Emotional competence - This includes the full range of self and social management skills, and I find empathy to be the uber-skill for emotional maturity.
  • Teaming skills - Teaming is made up of several skills and behaviors like framing, creating safety, learning from failure, speaking up, etc. (Edmonson, 2012). What makes this relevant is the central notion that teaming is a dynamic process. The iterative and cyclical nature of teaming is reflective of the uncertain and always changing nature of our complex environments.
  • Willingness to experiment - This means expecting not to be right the first time. It is essential to learning and to acting in groups because there is so much inherent uncertainty in interdependent action.
  • Interaction skills - Prepare. Learn the other’s story. Share your story. Problem solve. Agree.

I’m interested to know how you view these various components and also to hear about what you would add or change.