Knowledge Strategies Embracing Complexity

Following on from my last post on knowledge strategies for the future, below is a very good quote from Stacey on the links between complexity theory and strategy.

“Given that the key finding claimed for complexity theory is the effective unknowability of the future, the common assumption among managers that part of their job is to decide where the organisation is going, and to take decisions designed to get it there is seen as a dangerous delusion. Management, afflicted by increasing complexity and information overload, can react by becoming quite intolerant of ambiguity. Factors, targets, organisational structures all need to be nailed down. Uncertainty is ignored or denied. The management task is seen to be the enunciation of mission, the determination of strategy, and the elimination of deviation. Stability is sought as the ultimate bulwark against anxiety, which might otherwise become overwhelming. All of these managerial reflexes, many of them seeming unassailably commonsensical, are (we shall see) quite counter-productive when viewed from a complexity theory perspective.”

Having worked in very large organisations developing strategic plans, I feel very much in Stacey’s camp with the attitudes of management towards stability and the intolerance of ambiguity.  This is one of the reasons why I like Anecdote’s Three Journey’s model with the first journey having the leadership working out the rough mudmap of the destination but not getting into the detail and the second journey having the troops work out the detail of how to get there. 

Since the world is more complex than we take it to be, successful strategies, especially in the longer-term, will result less from fixing an organizational intention and mobilising around it and instead, they will emerge from the relationships and conversations between people.  Keep the strategy broad, set your short-term targets and look out for the signals of change that may require you to amend your strategic direction. 


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