Manage those wicked problems

The ability to manage complexity is a key competency of executives, but how well do they really do it? There’s still a way to go, argues Ted Cadsby, a former executive vice-president of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. He pinpoints the human preference for simple, fast and straightforward solutions for complex – or “wicked” – problems as a major leadership challenge. Complexity theory is by no means new, with researchers such as Martha Maznevski, Ulrich Steger and Wolfgang Amann arguing the case for a radically different mindset to cope with the growing degree of diversity, interdependence, ambiguity and flux that global decision-makers face. Cadsby advises leaders to look to the field of complexity science for insights, and to ensure they involve diverse perspectives in exploring different interpretations and solutions. “Our minds abhor ambiguity,” Cadsby says. “They will do anything to eliminate uncertainty. But when certainty is applied to complexity, the result is unwarranted confidence, because certainty closes the door to alternative perspectives.”

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