Not all change is complex – there is simple change, complicated change, and complex change. David Snowden has written about it and created the Cynefin framework (here’s a video about it). There are many keys to unlocking change, but here are three for complex change.
Key #1: Diversity
Diversity of people, opinion, experience, perspective. The more diverse the group is, the more we will learn new insights into the context. As a professor of mine said – ‘in the face of complex problems, we need to complexify ourselves’. This does not mean we don’t need to make decisions, it just means we are making decisions in light of multiple (and often competing and disagreeing) perspectives.
Key #2: Think Systems
Complex problems do not occur in a vaccuum and they influence, and are influenced by, other things. This is one of the reasons Key #1 is so critical. Breaking problems down into their constituent parts is helpful, but complex change is also about the ‘whole’ and the interactions between. An oak tree is part of an ecosystem supporting hundreds of species. A ‘star player’ on your team is often a star because of the team around her. A humanitarian agencies operates in certain ways because of the humanitarian system. And the humanitarian system behaves the way it does because the agencies that make it up. A systems thinking approach to complex change acknowledges that there is a chicken and an egg, which came first is not important, they simply are and they interact.
Key #3: Sleep
Perhaps a surprising one, but still important. Complex change is hard work. Hard mental and emotional work. It requires innovation, creativity, resilience, and perseverance. All of this requires energy. And one of the best ways we know of to replenish our bodies and minds is sleep. Complex change is not about an individual hero, it is a collective effort. And collective work requires humility, listening to others, and action. Sleep gives us a foundation for this effort. Sleep is like the long match stick, it helps to keep burn out at bay.
Which key do you need to focus on today? this week?