John Atkinson, co-curator of the Heart of the Art
blog, shares tales of corporate change management from a complex systems lens — equal parts valor, strategy and happy accident. John is a designer, architect and catalyst for whole system change. He has instigated and led projects around the world in corporate and public settings that help people design approaches to will make fundamental change to their work and lives.
Watch the interview, or read the full transcript below.
design4emergence: John, tell us more about your history with complex systems and how you apply your knowledge of the science to your work.
John Atkinson: I was thrown out of college and joined the army. That was quite a traditional form of leadership, the military. I ended up running the artillery’s leadership wing up in North Wales, and there I started to explore all sorts of different ways of understanding how you got stuff done.
I found that much more interesting than being a soldier, so I waved goodbye, handed the Queen my commission, and set out running someone else’s company. At that time I was using the outdoors to model business processes.
Some people use the outdoors to develop leadership — in terms of hanging people off ropes or doing tasks. I... Read more
How does the way information is organized in networks affect what we can achieve as human beings?
In this issue of d4e we ask, “Where are the old borders and boundaries of our countries, firms and financial systems reshaping? How are the lines of our communities and even our ideologies shifting? How does cooperation work?” Network science applies research from information theory, game theory, complexity theory and physics to understand all of these things, which boil down to how information organizes itself into networks to shape the world we live in.
César A. Hidalgo
, head of the Macro Connections group at MIT Media Lab
and author of Why Information Grows
, puts it a little more simply: No matter what the world is doing, it is organizing information. It’s this order we’re trying to understand when we want to build the systems we need to make our way in the world.
d4e: Why is something like information theory so important in understanding how the world works?
César Hidalgo: As a kid I wanted to study physics. I... Read more
"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea..."
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Business journalism is saturated with the last half-century's collective wisdom on what makes a good leader. That's great, but sifting through it is sometimes like boiling the ocean. Often we're left wondering about scale: How much of that greatness is a direct result of the leader's style and decisions, and how much of it is about who and what activity surrounds the leader? Like trying to pin down what makes a good film, it's not so easy anymore to separate the auteur from the script, the actors, the editors, the crew...Why? Because most organizations today are complex networks of internal and external stakeholders. Like a great director, a great leader today is really a network orchestrator.
“O Captain, My Captain”? or “a man of many notions”?
I like boat metaphors. Traditionally, the leader of an organization is the one who’s supposed to steer the boat, which requires both a tactical mastery of the boat itself and a strategic (and in the best cases, intuitive) understanding of the waters and the wind. These days, though, it gets harder and harder to separate ourselves from the ocean and the others navigating its waters, because together we are mapping new lands at an astonishing pace. Look at what e... Read more
Leading in the Network Age: The first in a series on Economic Complexity and Network Quotient (NQ)
“It is more useful to notice what has already happened and gone unnoticed than it is to try and predict the future.”
— Peter Drucker
Predicting the future is a fool’s errand. And none of us have the time to waste. In fact, we have less and less time to waste and certainly no one wants to be the fool. And yet we must lead, guide organizations and make decisions. In the network age, we don’t have the option of standing still. Business and life are accelerating. Organizations must adapt or die. Can I? Can my organization? Or am I a 'dead man walking'?
The greatest tectonic shift for business in the last 30 years is the rise of the network-based economy. Most of us didn’t fully appreciate the shift as it happened around us and in our lives.
For examples, look at the Blackberry vs. the iPhone. One was a piece of technology. One was an ecosystem of network innovation in which the creation of positive feedback loops among developers and consumers catalyzed an exponential explosion in growth and functionality.
We increasingly see value being created in networks and ecosystems that extend far beyond traditional organizational and personal boundaries. Definitions of competition are morphing and blurring. We’re no longer competing against individual companies, we’re competing against ecosystems. Think Apple vs. Android. And fir... Read more
The term ‘resilience’ is thrown around quite a lot lately. Whether it be in our personal or professional lives, we all know that being resilient is crucial to both survival and success. But what does resilience really mean? In network science, resilience is the ability of a system to withstand perturbations from its environment. In plain English, that basically means to roll with the punches. What does that look like at the firm level — for strategists, teams, and organizational leaders? What knowledge can we apply from network behaviors toward building more resilient, sustainable communities?
"In nature, the systems most likely to survive are the ones that can adapt to diverse environmental circumstances. Often that means being able to change as demands from the environment become ever more complex."
Dr. John Izzo
is an employee engagement expert, the author of six books including Stepping Up
, and a network science enthusiast who applies his knowledge of complex systems to helping organizations such as NASA, IBM, and Microsoft navigate complex challenges and transitions. According to Dr. Izzo, one of the best ways to understand resilience on an individual and community level is to look closely at nature. In nature, the systems most likely to survive are ... Read more
A background in geology made one thing certain for Christine Lloyd: Nature isn’t made of straight lines. Neither are people, the prima materia of organizations.
“I often use water as a metaphor in systems work,” she says. “When I get stuck on an organizational problem, I always think back to ‘what would the flow of water do here?’”
Those may sound like words uttered by a philosopher, but they’re grounded in science. The theoretical foundation of Chris’ work is complex adaptive systems, using whole systems thinking to help steer organizations and their leaders through periods of complex and unpredictable change.
Chris’ work has taken her around the world and through diverse industries. She has served as a senior executive in blue chip organizations such as Shell, ICI, Nokia, Cancer Research UK and UNICEF.
What wisdom can be gained from 20 years of applying systems science to massive organizational transformations? As our world becomes more complex, our organizations (like anything in nature) must also complexify in order to meet the demands of their environment. Drawing from her pioneering work with Nokia and UNICEF, Chris shared with d4e how she created innovative network structures to make change and innovation easier in a VUCA
world — bef... Read more