Complexity once again: Liminal Cynefin

Often we find that it is the borderline areas of concepts that really define their true nature. So it is with complexity.

Dave Snowden has once again, true to his nature, been pushing the boundaries of Cynefin. For some months we have seen his various ideas on how to cope with borders of complexity. There is the border country between Complex and Complicated as shown above with the green arrows; and there is the border country between Complex and Chaos shown with the red arrows.

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Complexity – the human condition

Complexity visualized

Throughout most of the history of human civilization and society, mankind has had the understanding that we only have limited insight into cause and effect in the world. People have mostly seen this in a religious context, where God or gods of various dispositions controlled aspects of the world leaving mankind either to deal with minor things or accept that we only have limited control. With the rise of rationalism and the successes of science, mankind gradually came to believe that man could know everything worth knowing. Furthermore, the belief came to be that the world is ordered and can be controlled; goals can be set, plans made and with proper execution, be brought to fruition.

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Reclaim and proclaim

The Chestnut-sided Warbler claiming its territory

In the previous articles (#1, #2 and #3) I wrote about how the west was lost to the neo-Taylorist managerial totalitarianism. The latest article ended on a slightly lighter note with a hint of a possibility to reclaim the lost ground.

It is time to follow that up, but let me rephrase the task at hand, it is going to be about how to “Reclaim and Proclaim”. It is not just about reclaiming lost territory or romantically returning to the good old days, they do not exist any more and probably were not all that good anyway. It is also about proclaiming a way to deal with the new and unique conditions of our present time. So this is also a proposed way forward: Agile Lean Leadership (ALL). Read more

How the West was lost #3, reclaiming

Is it really possible to reclaim the territory in our organizations that have been lost to neo-Taylorists? I am convinced that we can, and we will end this article with the first steps in that direction. But before we start to see light, it has to get even darker.

Voltaire’s Bastards

There is another book on the domination of “reason” in the West, I would like to mention. It is called “Voltaire’s Bastards” by Canadian author John Ralston Saul. While it is quite in line  with “The Puritan Gift”, that I mentioned in the first article, indeed it sheds new light on some of the examples mentioned in that book, its 640 pages leaves you utterly depressed, not wanting to get up in the morning – the world sucks.

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Leadership on the other side of the fence

Through the last articles I investigated some of the studies and narratives about management and leadership, and how the West was lost to that particular style of management that can be wrapped up under the Neo-Taylorist label (See for example here… )

In this article we will pursue the topic a little further and try to make a comparison between the two main styles of management in question. Actually I will prefer to reserve the term Management for the Neo-Taylorist view and use the term Leadership for the approach “on the other side of the fence”, this is what we have come to call Agile Lean Leadership. Lots of writers and thinkers have coined terms like Radical Management, Management 3.0, Managing for complexity, Beyond budgeting etc. to illustrate points of the subject.

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How the West was lost #2

The first article on this subject was a bit short and I would like to give some more background and detail. Before 1900 there was not much theory or anything about management or leadership, the only large institutions known in the West were the royal courts, the military and the Catholic church – all quite top-heavy.

The late 1800s in the US were characterized by a proliferation of industrial robber barons, exploiting every man and his dog. The situation had been the same 75 years earlier in the UK, famously described for example in Charles Dickens’ writings. But many industrialists were not like that and took social responsibility for employees and society to some extent.

The first two thirds of the 20th century represented the golden age of American business including a fairly enlightened leadership style, that took a sad turn for the worse at the end of the century, ending in the rise of the Imperial CEO. We cover the story here:
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How the West was lost

puritan-gift-1-728The institutions in Western society are in a deep leadership crisis. The way governments, organizations and businesses manage their affairs obviously does not work in a sustainable way. An erosion of mutual trust is in progress these years and a managerial totalitarianism is in full development. This series of articles explores the background, the consequences and a plausible way forward.

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The Challenge


Gemba – the real place in Japanese

Leadership in the 21st century is challenged. Have you ever had the experience of having to navigate the rapids of a complex project or initiative? How do you make sense of all the data thrown at you? How do you decide, what the most important thing to do now, is? How do you keep an eye on the results, you get? Do they match what you set out to accomplish? Is there a need to pivot and change direction quickly?

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