Practicing in Complexity

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.

Clarity on the Golf Course

Small talk leads to a breakthrough insight


A few days ago I was on the golf course, and one of my playing partners was asking about my work. On the 5th tee, he pushed me to go past the usual bland commentary and asked why he might hire someone like me.

That got me thinking.

Group Awareness and Being in the Moment

What is the opposite of certainty?


I’ve started to play around with an idea I’m calling “group awareness”. My working definition is in two parts. A collection of people has group awareness when they have developed 1) the ability to learn about where they are and what they are doing at any given moment, and 2) clarity about what they want to do next.

This seems so simplistic.

Back to the Future

It’s all about the learning.


For some time now, I’ve been noticing a change in the way teams operate. When I was first learning my craft, the typical metaphor for a high performing team was often a sports team, or a symphony orchestra, if I was in a place where drawing parallels to sports was unwelcome or misunderstood. These metaphors are less and less applicable in many of today’s dynamic organizational environments.

Simple Rules to Live By

What a flock of starlings can teach us.


Separation. Alignment. Cohesion. These are the names of the three simple rules that scientists and computer modelers have deduced to describe what enables birds to flock.  It’s amazing that a set of guideposts, at once so clear and so broad, could drive the behavior of tens of thousands of autonomous individuals so that they act as a coherent whole.

This is what complex adaptive systems are all about.

We are just beginning to understand that our organizations are also complex adaptive systems. Unfortunately, this means a great deal of change as most organizations have been operating under a much older, and now less effective, set of assumptions deriving from early 20th century innovations.

Think Ford’s assembly line and Taylor’s scientific management. Stupendous ideas in their time. Much less relevant in today’s knowledge economy.

Eric McNulty’s blog in strategy+business makes an argument for the using three different simple rules in our organizations today: Purpose. Values. Performance. I like his thinking. These guideposts are broad enough to apply to a multitude of situations, and can be made clear enough to be uniquely useful in each one.

If you find the usual command and control techniques are not moving your people in the needed direction, try defining a purpose for your organization, clarifying a short list of values, and tracking a few essential success indicators.

Let me know how you get on.