“We are in a time when change is happening so fast that many people are uncomfortable about what the future holds and how to deal with it.” One thing we know, is that the way we did things in the past will not work in today’s world. We are more interconnected, interdependent and complex than at any other moment in history. Another way to describe this moment in time is using the acronym VUCA, which emphasizes the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of the world today.
In a time of hyper complexity, we need to array ourselves with more diversity and difference than less if we are to make choices that embrace the most truth. Most of us have worked with people and know historic leaders who have surrounded themselves with a very few or no one who could challenge their authority or offer wise counsel.
I worked closely with a newly appointed senior executive who managed an organization with more than 30,000 workers and it served hundreds of thousands of people. This leader was young, charismatic, had a solid education and was popular as he rose through the ranks. The division he managed was one of seven and he was able to direct his division with few lieutenants. He was confident that he knew enough to get done what needed to be done and he reveled in being in control.
Upon assuming his chief executive position, he brought his old mindset into his new role and he was quickly overwhelmed. Each emerging challenge he attempted to comprehend using his existing experiences and instinct. He rarely asked questions out of curiosity, instead focusing on immediate decision making and in projecting a sense of control and understanding of every issue.
Running an extremely complex organization comprised of seven complex divisions that were different in more ways than they were similar including a complex set of relationships involving labor, management and aspects of the organizations that was largely dysfunctional proved mystifying. It was like solving a Rubik’s cube in which some of the cubes occasionally changed colors after they were put in place. In a few short years, he was fired by the board. The lesson here is that in every conceivable way a single mind is not prepared to engage in multiple complex issues and perform well.
It takes a village…a diverse village to engage complexity. The more intricacy there is the more kinds of minds, backgrounds, intelligences, experiences that will be needed to find good solutions. Leaders and organizations need to put together structures that allow for teams to form organically perform best in times of VUCA. The United States military represent a way that an organization can use its collective intelligence to solve challenging issues – in a sense, a team of teams needs to be created. General Stanley McCrystal believes that teams should be small and people need to feel that they matter – if these two things are evident-a leader can harness the best from their collective abilities in tackling the crisis at hand. Small diverse teams can identify patterns better than one or many (too many people on a team can create distraction and not everyone can be heard adequately).
Unless we adapt and become able to see new patterns and recognize new rules our society and economy is in danger of imploding. In addition, there is the wild card of conscious evolution. The concept that humankind has developed enough knowledge about how nature works that we are able to impact how our species evolves. The advances in communication technologies, brain research, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology will allow materials, human enhancement and biodiversity to be designed and created that nature has not provided. The possibilities and challenges of these dynamic variables require more than one brain to fathom and it takes a dialog to probe more completely.
Dialog amongst a diverse set of people with a wide range of expertise and perspectives is the only way that organizations and communities can keep pace of change. A group of informed people who are open to new ideas, can listen for the value in what others say and can make connections amongst disparate factors can untangle nearly any kind of problem faster. Even more important though is that through a generative dialogue between groups of people working intentionally- ideas and approaches are created that would have been impossible for someone to come up with by themselves.
Sustainable evolution involves systems more than singular small parts. The emerging future will not only be co-created it will be collectively comprehended. More succinct is this by Mother Teresa “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.” In a VUCA world this is truer than ever before.