Complex is the new normal

Change becomes chaotic when employees see and hear two or more different change methods and messages“, writes Jay Deragon in managing on the edge of chaos. Jay has an image that shows that ordered organizations need to empower their employees to deal with more complexity, while those in chaos need to gain alignment in order to get out of chaos. Complexity is becoming the “normal” state, and it can be dealt with, but not with traditional management methods.

I have combined Jay’s image with the Dave Snowden’s Cynefin framework, and some added arrows, here:

Complex is the new normal. However, it requires more than just discarding some of our traditional ways of dealing with change. It also means staying out of disorder:

The fifth domain is Disorder, which is the state of not knowing what type of causality exists, in which state people will revert to their own comfort zone in making a decision. ~ Wikipedia

Not knowing whether you are in a chaotic or complicated state is a large part of the problem with organizational change initiatives. Thinking you can manage your way through the change assumes a complicated state, where you can sense & analyze before responding. Assuming a chaotic state means acting before sensing, and often getting it wrong. If the situation facing the organization is indeed complex, then neither approach is suitable. The approach is to Probe, Sense & Respond.

To shift to a complex reality, the seven essential criteria for an increasingly complex world would be a good starting point for most organizations, something I rarely see in action. More detail is provided in a guide to complexity and organizations. Managing organizations on the edge of chaos needs an understanding of complexity. Most organizations and institutions have a long way to go, and I am sure that employees will continue hearing two or more conflicting messages about change, as their leaders flounder for control.

5 Responses to “Complex is the new normal”

  1. Jamie Billingham

    I love this post and really appreciate your series of post on complexity and Snowden’s Cynefin Framework.

    I’m finding, or perhaps I’m just noticing what has always been there, that I too often identify “something” as complicated because thats where it lays, from my perspective. What I miss is that for others it is complex or chaotic.

    I guess my question is around how much an individuals perception of a state determines the state. And do you have any research posts that speak to that? I think Meg Wheatley has some stuff that relates, do you know of others?


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)