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How do you uncover complex solutions during disruptive times?

How do you uncover complex solutions during disruptive times?

The complexity of disruption impacts how we need to improve our critical thinking.

Musings for living with creative disruption? We spend a lot of our time managing bite sized and bit sized pieces of information. Our  communication tools are exploding with fast and neat snatches of data.  The discussions we have about the most complex  business challenges and social problems facing us are delivered as tweets, sound bites, headlines and strategic planning meetings.

Are we robbing ourselves of sustainable possibilities because its just too darn hard to deal with complexity?

We are more connected than ever in our potential for accessing and sharing informationbut in a reductionist framework. We have become experts in efficiency–with reductionism. We LOVE reducing things to their simplest essence. And that is not a bad thing… if taken in balance.

But bits of information, lack of context, the inability to take perspective into consideration sets us up for nasty surprises in the form of

  •  solutions not big enough for the complexity of the problems we are dealing with
  •  unintended consequences from a failure to grasp the larger ecosystem

Most critically, reductionist thinking can not lead us to make the leaps and discoveries needed to

  • create new business models
  • birth more effective social institutions or bodies for governance
  • give us the resiliency to sustain ourselves through our own personal transformations.

What are our processes for understanding and working with complexity?

How much exposure have you had to systems that let you work with emergence?

This is a good time to insert a quick reference to the duality of reductionism and emergence.Science comes face to face with this duality regularly. For example, neuroscientist David Eagleman reminds us in his book, Incognito, of the excitement and promise the scientific community held for work with the Human Genome Project. Remember? Eagleman reports, ” we didn’t find the hoped for breakthrough answers about the genes that are unique to humankind: instead we discovered a massive recipe book for building the nuts and bolts of biological organisms. We found that other animals have essentially the same genome we do.” Breaking things down into their smallest parts does not always result in the answers we are looking for. But it serves as a useful first step for naming and identifying the parts. He also goes on to talk about emergence. Paraphrasing:The concept of emergent properties means that something new can be introduced that is greater than the individual parts and with different properties from the bits and pieces that are part of the construction. A simple example he uses? Flight as a property that emerges beyond the characteristics of the bits and parts of a plane.

Image of a DNA chain which shows the double he...

The learning? Bits and pieces are just that. Bits and pieces. The magic happens often outside of our current understanding, when all the bits and pieces assembled produce emergent properties we did not anticipate. We can’t anticipate them if the emergent properties are beyond the current frameworks we have for understanding them.

I felt it was important to bring us back to confront a reality that

Much of our innovation and information explosion is happening in the realm of reductionism…without the balance of emergent systems and process for bringing new potential into play. The down and dirty?

We are playing with bits and pieces but deprive ourselves of discovery if we have no way of working with complexity.

Who is doing emergence?

I heard Peggy Holman, author of “Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity at a Creativity in Business conference. The next morning, I bought her book and read it in one sitting! The book is an excellent primer for recognizing deeper patterns, principles and practices for creativity and change in turbulent times.

I highly recommend reading it and using it as a guide for exploring new tools that are available. The book goes well beyond tools though giving many insights about this evolving discipline.

We need a refresher course in working with the duality of reductionism and emergence. They are two necessary and opposing forces to transformation.

In my opinion, our ability to create a better future depends upon our getting as proficient with systems for engaging emergence as we are becoming with reductionism. Reductionism feels manageable and less subject to risk…but emergence embraces unrealized potential during times of creative disruption.


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