What a boeing, a mouse and riding a bike got to do with your business

Running a business in a complicated or complex world?

I way to often see businesses trying to deal with complexity as it was complication. But dealing with complexity needs a totally different approach than dealing with complication. Once I was told the following differentiation and I have never forgotten, so this could maybe help to you too.

See, a boeing – let’s say 747 – you can pick a part piece by piece, all the screws, the dots, and what all the thingies are called.  You can collect the bits and pieces again in the exact same way. All the millions of parts function together without any problems, if the drawings are followed. A damaged part can even be replaced with a new part equal to the first one and consequences can be foretold. You can do this even though it is complicated.

Now, if you take a mouse and carefully separate all the organs, tissues, etc. and elegantly put it all back in place, the mouse will still be dead and you can’t wake it. Nor can you replace (all types of) damaged parts, neither foretell the consequences of the operation. The system is too complex.

Our ability to navigate in complexity

In a complex world you can’t replace damaged parts nor can you foretell consequences. Therefore you need a different approach navigating in complexity.  In Laloux’ book Reinventing Organizations Brian Robertson from Holacracy explains this with the metaphor of riding a bike:

When dealing with something complicated you come up with a plan on how to best steer the bike. “We’d fearfully look at the road up ahead, trying to predict exactly where the bicycle is going to be when. … We’d make our plans, we’d have our project managers, we’d have our Gantt charts, we’d put in place our controls to make sure this all goes according to plan.

Then we get on the bicycle, we close our eyes, we hold the handle bar rigidly at the angle we calculated up front and we try to steer according to plan. And if the bicycle falls over somewhere along the way … well, first: who is to blame? Let’s find them, fire them, get them out of here.

And then: we know what to do differently next time. We obviously missed something. We need more upfront prediction. We need more controls to make sure things go according to plan. …

Our underlying management paradigm today is based on trying to predict and control. And the challenge with that: it often gives us more illusion of control than real control.”

But steering in complexity can’t be controlled, it needs sensing and responding, just as what it actually take to ride a bike successfully.

“It’s something you do in continuous flow, with micro increments all the time, and you do it consciously, you do it based on opening your eyes, taking in data in multiple ways. You’ve got your balance, your heading, you’ve got your senses fully at play by staying present in the moment, sensing your reality and consciously choosing your response at every moment. It’s not directionless, you still have a purpose pulling you forward, and in fact you are more likely to maintain control towards expressing your purpose by being conscious and present in every moment.”

As you see, it is all about seeking to sense and to respond – instead of trying to predict and control. To let go of the illusion of control. To navigate in complexity demands a clear purpose and to stay conscious and present in every moment. You work from the inside out. From there the success and sustainability will arise.

One way to get a successful and sustainable business

A response to a world that is becoming increasingly complex and fragmented, is Art of Participatory Leadership. In this perspective, the solutions and innovations do not lie in one leader or one viewpoint, but in the bigger picture of collective intelligence. The key differentiator is how well leaders are able to rise above challenges and work from the inside out.

The Art of Participatory Leadership is an ancient approach to leadership that combines new integrative personal practices, dialogues, facilitation and co-creation of innovation to address complex challenges in organisations, communities and groups of any size and nature.

Please visit INTERAKTION for more or feel free to contact me at info@interaktion.dk.