Complexity is a feature, not a bug
I used to think that organisational complexity was a menace.
Today I've come to see organisation complexity as a feature of a complex system built to be adaptive, goal-seeking, self-preserving and above all, evolutionary.
That's the thing with systems. They are dynamic.
Take your local junior league football.
That's also a system built of players, coaches, a club, and fans.
The purpose of this system could be to develop new talent from an early age or to teach young children life skills through sports.
Our world is full of systems.
And anything is a system if it has elements with interconnections and a shared function or a purpose.
Small systems (such as a junior football team) can be complex on their own, but system complexity increases as more of them come together.
Just as the children's football team has an impact on its members, it affects your local economy and the availability of funding for other activities for children.
Systems thinking is often the most underappreciated skill in any profession.
At a new job, a new project, or starting with a new client, many of us quickly pick up on things that are working well.
And things that aren't.
If you're goal-driven, data-inclined, and a tiny bit impatient (I know I am), you might feel the need to kick into optimisation mode (and I do).
I urge you to avoid that.
And here's why: The visible elements of a system are often the most accessible but fixing them has a limited impact on the behaviour of the system.
That's because, as Donella Meadows explains in her book Thinking in Systems:
Many of the interconnections in systems operate through the flow of information. Information holds systems together and plays a great role in determining how they operate.
Information flows can be formal or informal, but they're often hard to see.
It's even more difficult to deduce the purpose or the function of a system.
Many of us fall prey to believing in the obvious. I call it the 'Duh-Doi Moment'.
It happens to be the best of us.
A system's purpose is rarely its publically stated mission or goals.
The only way to discover the true purpose or function of the system is to look at its behaviour and its output.
We see that every day, companies make big promises and invest a lot of money in communicating their goals for sustainability and improving diversity and inclusion but continue to behave in ways that don't make those goals possible.
The behaviour of the system is the only accurate indicator of its ambitions.
Let's put systems thinking into everyday practice.
The best way to understand the purpose of the systems you're surrounded by is to watch how they behave.
It's often more challenging than it sounds.
Before you start, check your preconceptions and judgments at the door.
When you enter a new system:
give it your focused attention,
participate without reservation, and r
espond to feedback.
Believe me; you'll end up impressing yourself with your improved ability to solve complex problems if you decide to watch how a system behaves and appreciate its complexity before you disturb it in any way.