The Super Fantastic Leadership Show: Managing Business Complexity


104: How To Manage Complexity in Business: There is No Magic Bullet


This week we talk all about managing complexity in business and what that means for us to stay sustainable and vital. We specifically discuss the work of the Boston Consulting Group and the article the published in the Harvard Business Review.  And we often find ourselves looking for the magic bullet. Well, sadly there isn’t a magic bullet but there is a way of looking at business and teams from a biological perspective that can provide greater levels of  adaptability to allow us to get in harmony with what is occurring in any moment. Now that sounds better.

Here are some stats for you first: the Boston Consulting Group investigated 30,000 public firms over a 50-year span and discovered that public companies have a one in three chance of being delisted in the next five years either due to bankruptcy, liquidation, mergers or…other cause. That’s six times the delisting rate of 40 years ago and neither experience or scale guards against an early demise. The old paradigm used to seek stability and valued rigidity and predictability and this is why seeking the “magic bullet” never works. So we start to seek adaptability to manage complexity…instead of a magic bullet.

But now we can talk about complex adaptive systems (CAS) and how instead of attempting to control it versus working within it. And the reason this is important is that there are systems within systems; different teams can exist within a department which exists in the organization as a whole, which exists within the business environment which then exists within a broad societal environment. This impacts what we think we can control as a leader, decision-making and communication which are three areas that are of common focus in business.

Also, looking outside of their own system; what are they contributing to the system while receiving the benefits? And this is that call to collaboration.

So, what does this all mean for leaders? Looking at our teams and organization as a biological system means a few things:

  • Expect surprise and attempt to reduce uncertainty but know you cannot eliminate it
  • Open to feedback, look at the signals and BE PRESENT
  • Create robust feedback loops and adaptive mechanisms
  • And, know that it is very difficult to derive cause and effect
  • And most importantly, foster a culture of trust and reciprocity both in and out of the organization
  • The question isn’t “how can we win this game” but instead, “How can we extend the game?”

Make the question that you are asking not how can we win the game but instead, how can we extend the game?

Let us know what you think about a system being biological and dynamic at work versus static and rigid?Harvard Business Review

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