Archive for Complex System

Everyday Matters in the Game of Organization

Why do you think that Dilbert cartoons are so funny? Perhaps because they represent the experience of so many in the everyday life of an organization. Yes, the pointy hair boss spewing management speak and disengaged from what is actually happening, while the individual contributor  (I just picked up that term somewhere and wanted to use it) like Wally is learning to play the game and respond in humorous ways that shed responsibility and hold commitment and power at bay. And how is it that the average contributor learns to play the game of organization?

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What we are not going to talk about

Opening:

The leader, very facilitative by nature, welcomes everyone to the conference room. She reminds everyone how this meeting was proposed and that the topic at hand is to understand the “goods” and “bads” of something that has happened in order to learn. She then explains … “What we can talk about is what happened on project X. What we’re not going to talk about is Y and we’re also not going to do is critique the individual who has left the organization that was on project X. This isn’t about Mr. A.”

Response:

 Quizzical looks, a few tentatively raised hands.  She calls on one. “So just to be clear what can we talk about again?” 

“In general terms we can talk about X”, was the response. 

Another raised hand, “So we can’t talk directly about B then?” 

“Well yes if that applies we can talk about B, we just don’t want to bash A”, was the response.

Another raised hand, “So I’m not sure what I’m supposed to talk about now.”

Another comment, “I think we might need to talk about things more broadly than just X”.

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VUCA and Strange Attractors

VUCA is a term borrowed from the military via the Army War College. VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity and represents how military leaders see much of today’s world. I suggest that in our terms, VUCA are all attributes of complex adaptive systems. According to the National Defense University description, the “C” in VUCA sounds more like what we would call complicated since it stems from the interdependency of our choices (complicated) and not interdependency of actors (complexity). Nonetheless, I think they are on the right track toward leading in complexity. The caution is that some might incorrectly believe that we can reduce VUCA if we only had more accurate information. Complexity theory would tell us that no matter how much information we have, we still cannot reduce VUCA nor predict the future with increased accuracy.  Read More→

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Leadership Lesson from High School Kids

Recently we had an opportunity to give a short leadership workshop to 2 high school engineering classes. The teacher wanted us to help the students understand how to work together since later in the year they will be working in teams. We learned an important lesson ourselves while observing the two groups. Read More→

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The thick and thin of it

Clifford Geertz, the cultural anthropologist who influenced the practice of symbolic anthropology, wrote “analysis, then, is sorting out the structures of signification…and determining their social ground and import.” (Geertz, 1973, p. 9) Geertz was concerned that anthropological research was more interpretive than anthropologists admitted. To paraphrase, they were explicating other’s explications of explications. What Geertz was saying is that anthropological writing is fiction in the sense that they are made and fashioned but they are not false.

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Leadership Networks

The other day while working with a group of managers on succession planning and development, background stories emerged that hinted at the question: Are leaders born or made? Nature vs. nurture is a persistent debate regarding the source of leadership. Managers, academics, and consultants all have views about which contributes more to making good leaders — genes or experience. One study (Arvey et al, 2007) looked at twins and found that the split was 30% genetics and 70% experience. You don’t need to look too long before you find a study that concludes there is a different distribution. Most recent studies about the nature vs. nurture debate conclude that at least some degree of whatever they are studying (leadership, parenting, creativity, intelligence, etc.) is attributed to each nature and nurture. Ok, so let’s go with that and not worry about what percentage is which. We could agree that we need to work on both, get good people with good experience, treat them well, and allow them to continue to learn from experience. This is essentially the position the managers ended up with.

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Leadership of Attractors

In my last post I discussed how leadership could be viewed as interactions that create attractors. These are usually tactical, day-to-day, seemingly minor events that shape our landscape. These attractors can coordinate activities, stabilize groups, or even start radical movements. This is seldom talked about as the stuff of leadership yet I believe that it is as important in moving a group forward as anything that a single person who has been given the title of “Leader” can do. Nonetheless, there are people who either have the title or those that people informally look to for guidance. Other than creating many point attractors (sometimes called micromanagement), what can these people do to influence large areas of the social landscape? Are there ways to “lead” attractors?

 

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Attractors of Leadership

Recently, I’ve been thinking about attractors. What are they? Where do they come from? Where do they go? And specifically, where does leadership fit in this picture?

This the other morning I woke up with a strong desire for a cup of coffee. Getting coffee became a significant goal. Perhaps it was because of waking up to a radio news article about the benefits of coffee or perhaps it was because I needed caffeine. Obtaining coffee was a strong attractor. I could make coffee at home, drive to the local Starbucks, or drive to work and make coffee there. Getting a later start than I wanted, I decided to make coffee at work. Finally, cup in hand, I moved on to the next goal – writing a blog. As soon as I had my coffee, it was no longer an attractor. In fact, if you had offered me another cup while I was still drinking my first, I’d probably decline. Such is the case with goals, once attained they are no longer attractors. Attained goals become repellers or at the very least, are no longer attractors.

 

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