self-managing for complexity

“What processes will be effective in helping people to unlearn the disposition or stance that made them successful in the ordered domains of Cynefin?
How can they most effectively learn the skills required in the complex domain?
How do leaders start creating environments that support this transition – if we simply focus on training people, but the environment remains the same, nothing will change.
Many current ‘obvious’ environments are very compliance driven with rigid constraints.
In this transitionary phase, how do we create enabling spaces within these constrained environments?”
Sonja Blignaut

Let me paraphrase what Sonja has asked. How can we prepare people to work in complex, and not highly ordered, work environments in which most problems are exceptions from which some emergent solutions can be continuously developed, learned, and shared? In a world of organizational compliance training, where following orders is the best practice, how can we get people to come up with their own creative ways of doing work?

This is pretty well what many executives are saying, if you read between the lines. They want creative and critical thinkers, but saddle them with compulsory compliance training. They want people who take the initiative, then create so many rules that there is little room left to even change what time people are at their desk. Even in work environments where workers have some flexibility many are still constrained with a job description, meaning that someone in marketing cannot decide to collaborate with another person in human resources, without getting special permission through a circuitous chain of command. I wrote about this the last time I had a JOB: a four-letter word.

If we want to help people deal with complex problems and environments then they need to learn and practice in these. It starts in school. Subject-based curriculum sucks the complexity out of schooling, as do age-based classes. They promote conformity and teaching to the test. The Finns are already adapting to complexity, with their fourth major education revision in 100 years. It began with free school lunches, progressed to no grades, and is now focused on phenomenon-based learning. Understanding that education must be flexible and varied, the country is collecting examples of education innovation from around the world at

“You may wonder why Finland’s education authorities now insist that all schools must spend time on integration and phenomenon-based teaching when Finnish students’ test scores have been declining in the most recent international tests. The answer is that educators in Finland think, quite correctly, that schools should teach what young people need in their lives rather than try to bring national test scores back to where they were.

What Finnish youth need more than before are more integrated knowledge and skills about real world issues, many argue. An integrated approach, based on lessons from some schools with longer experience of that, enhances teacher collaboration in schools and makes learning more meaningful to students.” —The Conversation 2015-03-25

Earlier this year I wrote that both the gamer and artist mindsets can help us navigate the network era. For the most part, gamers and artists are self-managing. If democratic societies can function without an aristocracy, why can’t our organizations function without a managerial class?

All workers need to be able to probe their environment, detect patterns, and create something new. Temporary, negotiated hierarchies can be created to get work done, but they also need to be disconnected as soon as possible. This can happen if reorganization becomes part of the everyday functioning of an enterprise, not a single event. Workforce agility is the ability to change the work structure according to the situation at hand. It is not doing the same things faster or cheaper. We can learn from gamers, artists, and others who work on the edges.

While the industrial economy was based on finite resources, the creative economy is not. There is no limit to human creativity. We have to make a new social contract, not based on jobs, but enabling creativity by developing artistic and gamer mindsets.

All professionals need access to long-term social networks where they can access a diverse array of opinions, ideas, and knowledge. They also need safe places to experiment, either inside or outside the formal organizational structure. These shorter-term communities are focused on learning. Finally, temporary flash teams, based on trust, are where work gets done. The glue that holds it all together are human relationships.

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