passivity makes no sense

Last year I wrote that this pandemic has become a crisis in network leadership because understanding what domain of complexity we are dealing with is now an essential requirement for decision-makers. At its outbreak the pandemic was chaotic and required immediate action. Developing vaccines went from complex to complicated. Dealing with people and how various groups reacted to the pandemic oscillated between ordered and unordered domains but has been mostly complex. Clear and simple communications can help to avoid confusion, though they have seldom been delivered.

I created a framework for learning in the complex domain, including examples of organizations that are designed to handle complexity and chaos. The image below takes the basic PKM model — with teams in blue, communities in red, and networks in green, along two axes — high & low structure, and low & high abstraction. These are split in half — one for the Complex domain, and the other for the ordered domains (Complicated & Clear). The Chaotic domain has unique conditions and requires a different approach.

There are — at least — two modes for each form required to work and learn.

Teams can be semi-permanent and collaborative in ordered domains but should be quicker-forming temporary negotiated hierarchies in the complex domain.

Formal communities can provide continuity in ordered domains but informal communities are needed to provide more flexibility in crossing expertise silos and disciplines.

Established knowledge hubs provide all the structured information that a discipline requires, like the Project Management Body of Knowledge, but open knowledge networks are better when facing the complexity of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic as they need to quickly incorporate new findings and knowledge.

These forms for complexity should be incorporated into how organizations are structured, how learning can be supported, and how professionals engage. Today, many of those in leadership positions remain confused, not understanding if they are dealing with complicated, complex, or chaotic problems. They think in clear — but wrong — images, not understanding their state of confusion.

PKM with a cynefin lens

Learning in the complex domain

This is a summary [not in the order/format originally presented] of a thread on Twitter by Yaneer Bar-Yam, Complex Systems Physicist.

We have a historic opportunity to change the direction of society from failure, causing illness, death and disability, on a spiral of devastation, to a new path that will lead to an exit from this catastrophic condition. Business needs guidelines that will enable safety for workers, customers, and the product supply chain, leading to improved economic function. Infection followed by infection, & disability accumulating from long covid organ damage after multiple infections, is untenable.

There are 5 pillars of prevention: Masking, Ventilation, Testing, Social distancing, and Vaccination. Each of these has multiple levels — from poor to outstanding.

  • Masks: cloth > N95 > elastomeric > PAPR
  • Ventilation: Ventilation > HEPA filters
  • Testing: symptomatic > exposure > proactive > LAMP [Loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification]
  • Distancing: limiting gatherings > lockdowns
  • Vaccination: “over reliance on vaccination alone undermined its utility because of new variants that would not have arisen if we effectively used other measures to reduce transmission”

It is important to remember that scientists in general are passive observers. Biologists see biological phenomena not socio-technical advances or collective action, and surely not the opportunities of global enterprise engaging in coordinated action.
To know what can be done, use a startup mentality and galvanize multidisciplinary teams to meet the challenge. In this light passivity makes no sense.

This is the key — in complexity and chaos, “passivity makes no sense”. Just today, one million deaths from Covid-19 in the USA were announced, while in most of North America, including Canada, there are no active measures to decrease infection rates. The passivity in my province is so pervasive that our Chief Medical Officer of Health has not appeared in public since 24 February. Meanwhile, “38% of all of Canada’s reported COVID hospitalizations to date have been in the last 4 months”@MoriarityLab.

When we find ourselves in the chaotic domain, the optimal behaviour is to — Act > Sense > Respond. In the complex domain the optimal behaviour is to Probe > Sense > Respond. The leaders of our institutions are proficient at neither. Ethical action in the face of a clear and present danger cannot be incremental. We have met the enemy, and he is us. More particularly, the enemy is the design of every organization that we have created, from government, to public health, to workplace safety. They have all shown themselves to be inadequate for the task of dealing with this pandemic.

As Gillian Tett describes in The Silo Effect, “The paradox of the modern age, I realized, is that we live in a world that is closely integrated in some ways, but fragmented in others. Shocks are increasingly contagious. But we continue to behave and think in tiny silos.” We have to create organizations and institutions where knowledge flows at the speed of trust and passivity is unacceptable. As on a ship, the most important person is not the Captain or the Navigator, but the architect who designed the ship. We have the capability to redesign the ships that can get us through this pandemic and our next crisis. It’s the system, stupid.

“Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again.” —André Gide (1869–1951)

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