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Everything has to be bigger, everything has to be better, everything always has to be faster, more dynamic and more successful. There is an answer for everything, we are always in control, profits keep rising and there is no room for doubt. Everything is clear, everything is valuable, everything is controllable. It is the world of certainty. Managers as Masters of the Universe. One could rightly claim that this is the dominant perspective from which Western-style management has always operated. It is the perspective that Western business schools use in their research and training, based on which major consultancy firms design their practice.
But does it make sense? Is this really the way things are? Aren’t we missing something? Can the world be that simple? And the answer, of course, is a resounding NO. The world is not that simple. The real world, in contrast to the abstract world of spreadsheets and PowerPoints, has a much greater complexity, speed and dynamism. The real world is not malleable, it is not predictable. The real world is full of uncertainty. The real world does not respect the abstract rules of management literature. The real world is utterly complex. And this complexity will continue to increase in coming years. Digitisation, changed value patterns, transparency, saturation and liveability are only some of the many aspects that make our ‘business practices’ infinitely more complex and dynamic.
Our natural tendency is to ‘solve’ this complexity and dynamism. We analyse more, calculate more, we dive deeper, take yet another look at it, and accumulate big data, all of it in an attempt to solve the complexity, to take it away. Because we were so used to doing that in the malleable world. But complexity can’t be solved. Mathematics shows this clearly: a mathematical formula that expresses complexity cannot be solved. Complexity is fundamentally unpredictable and unmanageable.
No, we should not try to take away complexity. We shouldn’t try to regulate her through rules and regulations, we must not crush it to death under the guise of purported predictability and certainty. We should embrace it. We should cherish it. Because major questions solve themselves by facing them, embracing them, owning them and learning to deal with them. What we need is truthful answers to real questions instead of textbook solutions. We need answers that arise in direct interaction with our complex context, answers that emanate from genuine understanding and original thinking. We need answers that do not come from above but which are allowed to grow from below, from that place where organisations interact with the real world.
This has vast consequences for the way in which we make strategic choices, for the way in which organisations develop and organisational leadership manifests itself. Being closer to reality, letting go, pragmatism, humanity, powerlessness, unpredictability, auto-dynamics, self-development, life opportunities and permanent development, stakeholder value, people, planet and profit, social network and a sense of community, inner purpose, authenticity, honesty, permanent adaptation and evolution– all these concepts are part of dealing with the complexity of the contemporary world.