Learn to live with complexity

The global financial crisis showed just how fast stability can collapse. As Western leaders now watch a second crisis unfold across the Eurozone, they would do well to review the lessons of 2008-9. Ashridge academics Andrew Day and Kevin Power interviewed scores of executives during the GFC and found them shocked by the speed, breadth and depth of change, “greater than anything they had previously experienced”. Leaders were confronted with the challenge of how to make sense of their worlds and how to respond, prompting Day and Power to note the need for a new set of specific management capabilities “not readily apparent in organisations today”. The business world, they deduced, had changed forever. As Boston Consulting Group Fellow Yves Morieux says, companies operate in an increasingly complex world and “in and of itself, this complexity is not a bad thing”. The problem, he says, is the way companies attempt to respond to it. Faced with a turbulent and highly interconnected operating environment, organisational complexity balloons, employee disengagement rises, and productivity and innovation suffer. Rather than creating more “complicatedness”, Morieux suggests that leaders focus on creating environments more conducive to co-operation on the ground, “where employees can work with one another to create creative solutions to complex challenges”. As IBM’s recent study on organisational creativity noted, “for many companies, creativity and adaptability are latent capabilities just waiting on the catalysts to energise them”.

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