Many leaders are feeling ‘in over their heads’. The organisational landscape has become volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) and it can often feel so challenging and overwhelming that leaders feel out of our depth and swamped. This book addresses those challenges with wisdom and offers sensible, practical advice.
In this excellent book, Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston explain that many of the problems we are now grappling with are complex rather than complicated and that means they need to be handled differently.
In complicated situations, you create the outcome you want by working through things logically, defining the problem, breaking it down into it’s component parts, perhaps doing a root cause analysis and then making a step by step plan. It is hard, but manageable.
In a complex environment this isn’t the case. In complex situations, causality isn’t linear or predictable. So a root cause analysis quickly becomes messy and unhelpful. In complexity, you can’t predict the future from what happened in the past. You can’t work out logically what actions will create the outcomes you want to achieve, as things are interconnected – a small change in one place has an unpredictable impact in another place. So your attempts to create and act on a plan don’t seem to work. It is easy to feel swamped, powerless and uncertain.
What are better strategies for complex situations? Garvey Berger and Johnston suggest the following:
- Have a broad sense of the direction you want the system to head in but avoid rigid plans and goals that can’t adapt and take advantage of changes in the system. (e.g. ‘Better customer service’ is a broad direction whereas ‘answering customer calls within 2 minutes and resolving all questions within a further 2 minutes’ is a rigid goal). - Become very curious about the present - Listen very deeply to what others are saying – recognize that others may be making sense of things differently to you - Be interested in multiple perspectives on the situation – including the perspectives that people (including you!) may have in a year or 5 years. - Ask different questions - Take a wider, more systemic view. Rather than looking for root causes – look for combinations of factors that interact to push the system in a particular direction. - Notice what is tending to happen already in the system and then try to amplify any current tendencies that are aligned with the desired direction. - Take actions designed to nudge the system in a positive direction. - Instead of making and executing a plan, use ‘safe to fail’ experiments to try to shift the system – learn from the outcome of each experiment and feed that learning into the next safe to fail experiment. NB For this to work, you need a culture where is okay to take risks and fail (with boundaries given for what are acceptable and unacceptable risks).
I think this is an excellent book. Highly recommended.
Simple but not simplistic and practical steps to learn and work with complexity. Synthesis of many strong theories in adult development, complexity, and many more.
Hands down, Jennifer is the Queen of synthesis. The variety of theories and ideas she has pulled to create a cohesive and useful guide to navigate uncertainty is amazing.Thank you Jennifer and Keith for the gift you shared
Loved this book. I wish I was a star and could wish all leaders read this book. In the complex, rushed lives we lead, it is a simple lesson at its heart. That we listen. Deeply and with compassion. Whether it is to our own heart, or to others we work with. And those we love.
If you are wondering about complexity and you like to explore things through stories then this a great book for you. These habits are easy to understand even if complexity is not. These authors know what it is like to work in the real world and apply their ideas to well.
It's not news that leaders in organizations today are trying to become more effective in a volatile, uncertain, and complex world. But how? What new habits of mind or action can improve the effectiveness of leaders faced with intractable problems, planning for an unknown future, or creating value with others in new ways?
In this book the authors take readers on a thoughtful journey and make good on their promise to share powerful practices. I think this book will be a game changer for any leader ready to take a fresh look at how they think and how they approach their leadership challenges. Really. I am recommending this book to leaders in all types of organizations as well as those supporting the growth and development of leaders.