The shift from a complicated to a complex world

Fri, 2005-11-18 11:43.

A synopsis of a recent breakfast meeting with Dave Snowden, head of the Cynefin Centre and thought leader on complex systems and narrative and their application in business.

As he described his learnings and discoveries about complex adaptive systems and how pervasive they are in our business and personal lives, I began to realize that appreciating enterprises, organizations and systems as (mostly) complex rather than merely complicated is more than just a basis for re-framing business methodologies, it is a completely different way of sensing and dealing with the world. It changes everything. Here are just a few of the extraordinary paradigm shifts that this reframing provokes:

Complicated World Complex World
Assumption of order ("research this to find out if there's a market for it" Realization of unorder ("let's explore what might happen if we did this")
Importance of aggressiveness and charisma to "lead the change" Importance of collaboration and humility to participate in the evolution
Actions driven by authority-based direction Actions based on learnings from conversations, consensus and freedom to act bounded by personal responsibility
Top-down hierarchical communication and knowledge transfer Peer-to-peer (networked) communication and knowledge transfer
Military win/lose competitiveness Natural win/win cooperation and coexistence
Emphasis on action (making decisions quickly and 'expertly') Emphasis on paying attention (making decisions continuously, improvisationally)
Assumption of rational choice ("tell people why they should buy X") Realization of entrained behaviour ("study people to discover if they might buy X")
Primacy of objective reality ("what's happening here") Primacy of perception ("what do people think is happening here")
Changing the way things are Understanding why things are the way they are
Assumption of intention ("why did this happen") Realization of meaning ("what do we learn from this")
Assess causality Look for pattern and correlation
Focus Experiment
Leadership is everything Membership is everything
Strive for stability Strive for resilience
Exploit weaknesses, opportunities, needs via speed-to-market Explore weaknesses, opportunities, needs via continuous environmental scan
Mechanistic (machine) models of behaviour, relationship, order, connection Organic (natural) models of behaviour, relationship, order, connection
How do we solve the problem How do we deal with the situation
Set "go-to-market" mission, objectives, strategies, actions Understand the market and actors' identities and influence the attractors and barriers that bring the market to you
Market as rational

Market as emotional

 
Link via Dave Pollard's Blog