Organize for Complexity

Niels Pflaeging read my ebook Seeking perpetual beta and said that “after reading the book one yearns for more from you about the right learning architecture, about how to develop organizations applying this thinking, about how to build learning programs and infrastructure.” Well I think Niels has answered much of that question himself, in his recent book Organize for Complexity. Since I promote the fact that today work is learning, and learning is the work, then if you create better ways of working, you are also improving organizational learning. As Niels writes about the “learning riddle”:

Mastery is the human capability to solve new problems. It can only be developed through practice. We call this “disciplined practice”.

Fads like business analytics, knowledge management, and big data will never make organizations fit for complexity.

This is why I now call PKM: Personal Knowledge Mastery; to separate it from much of the traditional practice of  knowledge management. #PKMastery is disciplined practice.

Image: Niels Pflaeging, Organizing for Complexity


So what does Organize for Complexity cover? Pretty well everything you need to know in order to prepare  your organization for the “age of global markets”, or what I call the network era. The book simplifies years of research and management practice and presents a lucid set of working examples, guidelines, and models that can be understood by all. It’s like an updated, synthesized version of Senge’s Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, but designed for the second decade of the 21st century.

The book is filled with excellent advice on how to build an organization that uses human ingenuity to tackle complex problems, and not over-design the non-human systems.

Many organizations are obsessed with personal results. But individual performance is actually a myth.

Social pressure, used correctly: far more powerful than hierarchy, no damaging side-effects.

Complex markets require decentralization, combined with market-like coordination.

Decentralization is more permanent than delegation. It must be wired into structure and value-creation.

Understood correctly, leadership in complexity means working the system, not the people.


organize for complexityOrganize for Complexity is the essential handbook for management in the network era. Niels has managed to distill the essential components of organizational development, leadership, and management into a single, short, clear volume that is easy to read and understand. It aligns with the principles of connected leadership and is a welcome addition to management thinking. At a very reasonable price, every company should just buy several copies, read them, and see how they can implement these ideas. In complexity, there are no cookie cutter solutions, but this is the best cook book to keep on hand.

In the meantime, I will take what Niels has written and continue to work on a framework to support this new organization, where work is learning, and learning is the work.

Update: I have since written finding perpetual beta.

7 Responses to “Organize for Complexity”

  1. Jon Husband

    “” Fads like business analytics, knowledge management, and big data will never make organizations fit for complexity.””

    This point reminded me of a much-overlooked book from 15 – 20 years ago (1996) titled “Fad Surfing in the Boardroom – Managing in the age of instant answers”

    I found the book very well-done, excoriating much of the consulting industry (and its clients). regardless of its quality, it clearly hasn’t had much impact on the issue / problem 😉


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