2020 upped the ante on complexity.
In our book, Cracking Complexity, we characterize complex challenges as unscientific, messy, unstable, and unpredictable. By contrast, problems that are merely simple or complicated are technical, orderly, linear, and completely predictable.
Complexity renders the old playbook obsolete, doesn’t call a timeout, and moves at an exponential pace. And most organizations weren’t designed for these times. As we write in our book, “they have change breaking out on many fronts at once, and just as they gear up to deal with things like a new ERP, or a customer-centricity initiative, or big data, or their talent strategy – a new imperative appears, like China, or cyber-security, or a new Uber-like entrant into their market.”
Remember the good old days when challenges like that were all you were dealing with?
Everyone - every organization, every leader, every individual - is overmatched by today’s complex challenges. 2020 changed the landscape forever.
As we head into 2021, stop thinking about the “new normal,” because there is nothing normal about what’s ahead. 2021 is when we will realize that we’re standing in the metaphorical rubble of the old civilization - our beloved institutions a mess, our time-worn processes and procedures obsolete, our belief systems proven wrong, and our people overmatched by too much change.
After the most trying of years, what complex challenges should you anticipate?
We’ve been in conversation with amazing people this past year - getting to know what they’ve been going through over the duration of the pandemic. From those conversations, we got a sense of the many new faces of complexity that now assail us. In 2021 and beyond, you are likely to face complex challenges that include:
And let’s not forget that we were living in highly complex times before 2020.
2021 will be the year that this all comes home to roost
If you’re in a position of leadership in 2021, it’s time now to accept the reality of all this change. Don’t waste time grieving for the old world, don’t waste time with anger, bargaining, and depression. Move on. It’s over.
Acceptance means learning that your only chance in the year(s) ahead is to fully embrace Ashby’s Law (aka the Law of Requisite Variety): ONLY VARIETY DESTROYS VARIETY. Paint those words on your wall and remind yourself of them every day.
The way you will surmount all of this complexity and find the right way forward is by leveraging all the brilliance, diversity, and talent in and around your organization and its ecosystem. This is not a solitary journey. You are overmatched. There is no game plan. There won’t be a time out. The pace will be unrelenting. You have to learn to unleash your people.
Learn how to become what Gary Hamel calls a “humanocracy”. Tap into the epic potential of all the people in your midst, regardless of race, gender, personality, age, … and the uncountable other ways that diversity presents itself. Equip them. Empower them. Engage them. Align them. Encourage them to try things, to fail, and to learn. Ground them in values and a sense of purpose. Incent them and hold them accountable, equally, to reimagine and transform your organization into something that is fit for purpose.
Build partnerships. Orchestrate ecosystems. Let down the walls, because they’re barely standing anyways.
And importantly, expect to do these things together without being together - to solve problems, to make decisions, to collaborate, and to align from anywhere.
The new world is a ‘from anywhere’ world. Welcome to it.
Welcome to 2021.
Original article posted on Forbes on jan 11, 2021
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