After our session at Online Educa this morning (well, it was early morning for me anyway) I thought some more about one of the models I used. The Cynefin framework is a good way to explain different types of work and how training can only help in some cases: when work is simple (cause & effect are obvious) or complicated (cause & effect can be determined through analysis). Training is of little use in developing the necessary emergent practices for dealing with complex problems in our work environment.
My basic guideline for the workplace is that:
- Simple work will be automated
- Complicated work will go to the lowest bidder, as processes & procedures become more defined and job aids more powerful (e.g. mortgage applications)
- Complex work requires creativity and is where the value of the post-industrial (network era) organization lies
- Dealing with Chaos sometimes has to be confronted and this requires creativity as well as a sense of adventure to try novel approaches
Reading between the lines of many comments from Online Educa, one thematic question would be: This stuff may be interesting from a conceptual perspective, but what can organizations do right now to address increasing complexity? Initially, I would say there are two laws at work over which you will have little control:
- The bottom of the complexity pyramid (simple work) will continue to be automated.
- All work that is merely complicated will be done as cheaply as possible (outsourced, partially automated, done as cheap piece work)
Here is a possible strategy to consider:
Work that is merely complicated does not require all of a worker’s cognitive capabilities (really). Use this cognitive surplus and couple it with a time surplus, like Google’s 20% for engineers to work on pet projects. Have incentives for workers to find the complexities in their work and try out creative ways to address them. This will encourage people to move up the creative ladder, into more complex work. Remember, almost all of this complexity is man-made. We decided to network the planet and increase the speed of human communications. We will continue to create more complex work to do.
As for people whose work already requires creativity in dealing with complexity there are a few things they can do. First, they can become mentors and guides for those doing merely complicated work. This is one way to address Richard Florida’s concern that we need to make the service industries more creative. Who we work with makes a significant difference in how creative we are. Everyone can be creative – just watch this video involving the highest and lowest paid staff in a hospital creating a powerful message together.
Those dealing with complex work situations can also be further encouraged to take on Chaotic situations. It’s one thing to be creative and quite another to jump into the unknown by taking action without any idea of what will happen. Here’s a good video on systemic, organizational change explaining some aspects of simple, complicated, complex and chaotic work environments.
The bottom line is to make organizations more flexible, able to deal with change and even create change. Complexity should be embraced as the future of work and the key to an engaged workforce. Few are bored with complex challenges. The more people who are engaged creatively, the more effective the organization will be and no, there isn’t a course you can take to address this.