Friday, May 10, 2013

Complexity and Humility

The recognition of complexity is at its core a view of the world that that makes us more humble and more open. It is the awareness that too often our interventions will not achieve what we wanted and we will be shocked by unintended consequences. (The fact that, following the creation of the Cap-and-Trade Carbon Emission Scheme as a clever new artificial market, more coal is being burned in Europe than before is a mind-boggling example.) At the same time, it is the acknowledgement that simplistic “can do” thinking and linear approaches in organizations and markets, which are by definition complex, won’t be sufficient. And it is the prod to us to better understand why.
That is from a nice recent post by Ben Ramalingam.  He notes:
Of course we know [my note: a lot of leaders still don't!] that constantly dialing down expenses and investments to boost short-term margins inevitably damages the long-term health of the company. It takes a complexity approach to keep competing values and priorities and the effects of decisions on all of them in view — and not just for management, but equally for investors, analysts, and regulators.
And goes on to say:
There has been no watershed event to make it true that managers will apply complexity science to their work today, whereas they could not, or would not, yesterday. Rather, there has been a gradual change in mindset, pushed along by the increasingly evident damage of narrow, simplistic thinking. The toolkit that allows us to understand the dynamics of large systems has continued to evolve. And the reassuring truth has been reasserted that, on top of the logic of algorithms, human values and judgment are essential.
Managers, I think, should now get ready to face the full complexity of their organizations and economic environments and, if not control them, learn how to intervene with deliberate, positive effect. Embracing complexity will not make their jobs easier, but it is a recognition of reality, and an idea whose time has come.

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