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On the Blind Spot for Complexity

August 14, 2011

Many thanks to readers of the Guest Blog for initial comments (I write better when I have someone to talk to!)

I too have been getting questioning looks when I present enthusiastically some insights from complexity theory to clients. To me, at least, it all makes perfect sense, and it takes a serious act of self-distancing to understand the perspectives from which it does not, or is misunderstood. Yesterday I saw a charming ad video by Nilofer Merchant for her last book, The New How, in which she talks about the "air sandwich" which exists in organizations because of the separation of strategy and execution, in which "murder boarding" replaces "white boarding" in the day-to-day operational process of creating value (with a great drawings by what I assume is Gaping Void throughout). It is the old story of Tayloristic division of labour we all know, with a novel take. But the blanket education in Tayloristic ideas is not enough to explain the blind spot to complexity we see around us. I suspect there are psychological reasons, for example, in the need of traumatized individuals and communities to stabilize themselves through external systems of order (as opposed to an internal ability to trust in relationships and sense). There are money and power interests, which we learn to become blind to when our living depends on upholding even the most dysfunctional ideas. There are developmental issues, if one thinks in terms of developmental lines, in the ability (or rather inability) of clan or authoritarian social environments to create any connection at all to the dynamics of conscious complex systems. And of course there are ideological reasons, based in belief systems, which can lead to a complete cut-off from reality-based thinking. Often it is just a lack of exposure to the thinking, as most of what determines our everyday experience in the formal context of work gives us no useful experience with complexity approaches.

The result of the many compensatory strategies for many people struggling to make sense of our rapidly changing world is a vast disorientation, in which we tend to hang on the the familiar for want of credible alternatives.

I think that the biggest part of our work lies in finding the "frames" that allow people to relate to emergent processes. People I have found helpful in tilling the soil are John Hagel and John Seely Brown with their Power of Pull, Umair Haque with his New Capitalist Manifesto, and Tapscott and Williams with Macrowikinomics, among others. These are people who are driving a shift in consciousness about how to understand the current challenges, and what they point to we could see as the principles behind complexity (though they don't call it that). For people who have begun to absorb these new perspectives on our reality, complexity provides the nuts and bolts methodology and tools to implement the shift in practice.

I think we need to approach people with helpful overarching frames, before we get into the epistemology and methodology of complexity, or we quickly lose them.

So, enough for tonight. Tomorrow I finish my week of fasting... and will eat! Especially today I have had visions of gourmet burgers, grilled chicken and schnitzel dancing through my head (it is entertaining to see what fantasies the unconscious conjures up under duress, as I'm not into an all meat diet. But the body is telling me what it wants, and I will obey after a slow rehabituation to eating in some significant measure... grin

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