Complexity, Work and Organisation – Part 2

At the end of part 1 of this series of blogs we asked the question: Does your organisation have the required capacity to meet the complexity of it environment? We also said that if this capacity is not yet present then it is critical to determine how might you build this capacity. This question prompts 3 further questions, the first of which is answered in this blog.

Question 1 – How do we, as individuals, adapt to, or learn to cope with, complexity?

A paradoxical answer to this first question might be that there is no answer, at least not in terms of a particular method or tool. Because complex systems are fundamentally different, they need a different approach.  

Trying to manage a complex system using only rational methods is unlikely to produce the expected results. For example, the NHS is a complex organisation, yet we still hear stakeholders proposing simple solutions to the NHS’s problems that apparently link cause and effect e.g. get rid of managers, bring back matron, or train more doctors. However, in truly complex situations, cause and effect relationships are rarely that clear. 

How can we ‘know’ what to do in complex conditions? Clearly, our existing knowledge and experience alone will not produce the solution. Instead we need, first, to gain an understanding, to make more sense of what sort of predicament we are facing.

To take the first step to comprehending the situation, we need to welcome the complexity, and engage with it, so we can form an understanding. Only then can we start to conceive a different future i.e. to imagine, to reflect, to develop ideas, and to bring that into being using effective judgement.  

Imagination is also needed mentally to create and compare options, so we can make choices. Action can then follow from those choices, although it still needs to be treated as an experiment, where we monitor the results and amend our plans as needed.