Practically Working With Three Principles of Complexity

In recent weeks I had the great opportunity to work with several teams on the use of simple tools, taken from the three principles of complexity that I train people to use. Here, I want to share some key insights from that work -

1. Causes are not important anymore (based on the principle of ‘focus on the dynamics/interactions and not on the actors‘)

When the teams I’ve met realized that they are operating in complex contexts, which are totally different from the ones they thought they are in. Suddenly, came an understanding that was both liberating and alarming.

When the focus of the problem shifts from the concrete parts of that problem to the interactions between them. And when an uncontrolled dynamics is identified, then is becomes clear that long, expensive searches for the reasons to the current situation and any trials to pin down the causes are not at all constructive and that there can be a more practical way to work with a complex situation, without understanding its root causes or key drivers.

However, this is also disturbing. Can we do without the reasons? without understanding why? isn’t this kind of work is non scientific? based on pre-modern thinking?

Don’t Panic !!!!

In a complex context, working with the dynamics of a given system, it is hard and many times futile to pin down causes. The expectation for a linear narrative, a cause and effect chain is slipping away and a new reality is discovered. One that has inter-relations, correlations and inter-dependencies instead of reasons and causes.

For that matter, science itself is not really working in linear ways. The scientific process and its dynamic system of trials and errors is what we actually look up to as an example for modernity and rationality. After all, even Charles Darwin in his ‘Origins of Species’ did not really found their origin.

But he did discover the dynamics of natural selection

2. Team work is not chaotic (Based on the principle of ‘there is an intrinsic emerging order’)

When a team lose the need to search for causes, there is often some panic about losing any order and falling into chaos. When a team is working in a complex situation, the rapid changes often make it seems so chaotic in the first place that giving up the option for a causal explanation can be too much.

But, chaos is not the only alternative to the lack of a simple linear order. What complex situations have instead is an emerging internal order. This order is governed by its own rules and culture and can be detected as recurring patterns or as a resistance for a change in the system.

The teams I’ve met began to realize and discuss among them this emerging patterns and governing rules, something they seldom do because all assume that they are just reacting to a chaotic reality. By acknowledging their own structure, culture and internal order, they are better situated to now control some of it and deliberately change it.

3. We can survive in very different futures and still make decisions today that would work in all of them (Based on the principle of ‘embrace principled uncertainties’)

Nevertheless, even when we realize we do have some sort of order to substitute the traditional expected linear causal order, we cannot tell where we’ll be in the future and how to maintain this type of order. Especially when it is part of a dynamic complex system which we do not control and are many time controlled by it.

This is why we should use the next practical principle of complexity and embrace uncertainty. Work with it, using several possible tools such as future scenarios planning.

When working with the teams I’ve met with this method they realized two important and related points. One was that they will survive in any scenario that might emerge out of the uncertainties they encounter, they would just be playing different roles in each future. The second realization was that even though they cannot be sure about how things would unfold for them in the future, and even when this future is beyond any of their direct control, they can still work and make decisions today.

Making such decisions, some of them with substantial financial implications, in such a way that these decisions could work for them in any of the possible futures, makes it easier for them to proceed. They don’t need to chose which future they are working towards and then make a specific, future oriented strategic decision that might end up being the wrong gamble. They can decide on the few decisions that can work positively for them in any given scenario and just monitor progress closely to understand their positioning and role as the future emerges.

If you liked these insights, do recommend this piece here on Medium, share it further in any platform.

I am launching a new online course, called ‘Emerging Futures’, which will enable you to work with these principles as well, using very simple tools.

If you are interested to join the course, send the word ‘insight’ in the subject line to complextochange@gmail.com and receive an early bird’s 50% discount for the course and its materials.