Mastering Complexity: Part 3: Harnessing Complexity

We began this series (Part 1) by establishing that today’s global business environment is highly Complex, but saw last time (Part 2) how accepted “wisdom” instead persists in treating it instead as Complicated, with disastrous results.  We explored:

  • What makes something Complicated and how it differs profoundly from the Complex.
  • The Complicated responses to today’s Complexity and why people pursue them – including because there hasn’t been any viable alternative.
  • Why such responses have been ineffective at best, and – at worst – catastrophic.

Throughout, we explained how this plays out in organisations, and observed how even apparently “new” approaches are ultimately rooted in (and typically bolted-on) to Complicated ways of thinking.  

We concluded that a genuinely new approach is needed – a paradigm shift to a new mindset, toolset and skillset – and this seems to be increasingly recognised (even if it has been said for some time), but confusion then mostly abounds as to what it might involve.

At a high level, there are some broad ideas, and Rick Nason – in his book, It’s Not Complicated – gives a very helpful summary of some guiding principles:

Consciously managing complexity in a business context is broadly a function of four different strategies or tactics. They are: (1) recognize which type of system you are dealing with; (2) think “manage, not solve”; (3) employ a “try, learn, and adapt” operating strategy; and finally, and perhaps most importantly, (4) develop a complexity mindset.

But what is lacking is what all this looks like in practice, i.e.:

  • Beyond these high level principles (and, with other authors, lots of variously helpful anecdotes) how is Complexity systematically and sustainably managed?
  • What tools and approaches comprise the “try, learn and adapt operating strategy”?
  • And how is a new mindset developed (especially organisation-wide)?

By fleshing out the new conceptual framework (“mindset”) needed and providing answers to those questions through its holistic tools and system of deployment (“toolset”) – all informed by Complexity itself, and unified by the overarching concept of “discernment” to put both into practice (“skillset”) – Value Management provides the first full, viable and proven response to Complexity.

In this piece, we will explain this in more detail by unpacking each of the following:

  1. The new conceptual framework that responses to Complexity need to be based on – effectively (2) and (4) of Nason’s list above; the new complexity-informed mindset.
  2. How this framework is expressed in new, Complexity-informed tools and processes – the missing piece of the puzzle; the new Complexity-informed toolset.
  3. What is needed to get going – developing on (1) and (3) from Nason’s list – in creating the new Complexity-informed skillset.

Unlike Nason, then, we deliberately start with the new conceptual framework (or “mindset”) because, whilst practising effective responses to Complexity will help further refine and embed it, an upfront awareness (or “discernment”) of what needs to be different is essential for starting out in a new way, understanding the new tools, how (and why) they work, and committing to put them into practice.

Again, whilst talking in general terms, we’ll relate back to organisations and business.

1. The New Conceptual Framework

The foundation of the new conceptual framework needed to respond to Complexity is recognising – or “discerning” – that there is a pragmatic way in which organisations can “harness” Complexity, help steer it through intelligent interventions, and thrive because of it, rather than being its “victims”.

Unlike the blanket calls for “radical innovation” that many make – sometimes in specific connection with technology; sometimes as an even vaguer rallying call – the new conceptual framework is far more nuanced.

It preserves the best aspects of the existing approaches, but transforms them – it isn’t something faddish or “new” for novelty’s sake; nor does it treat Complexity as a black box to be “sidestepped” or leapfrogged by some arcane or esoteric “innovation”.

Rather, having accepted that total knowledge of a Complex situation, total control and the dictating of outcomes are impossible and counterproductive goals to try and achieve, it involves taking familiar aspects of organisational life – control, teams, leadership and measurement – and fundamentally reconceiving and reapplying them to realise new goals and qualities, many of which initially seem “opposed” to existing ones:

Prioritised organisational goals and qualities
Existing: ComplicatedNew: Complex
Creating and reinforcing hierarchyNetworking to foster teams
Planning and managingAdaptation and self-organisation
Responding to changeHarnessing change
Robustness and efficiencyResilience and effectiveness
Development of capabilityExercise of competence
Specialising, standardising and exploitingGeneralising, experimenting and exploring
Knowing in fullMaking discerning choices
Complete, objective solutionsHypotheses and tentative approaches
“Exploit” through end-to-end implementations“Explore” through short, iterative loops toward a fluid ideal
Imposing sense / meaningDiscovering sense / meaning
“Adding”, “creating”, “delivering” valueRevealing, anticipating, facilitating value
Command and controlChannel and control

So, in Complicated situations, control is usually perceived in command terms, and as a binary phenomenon – either it is (near) total or there is the fear of a descent into chaos and anarchy. 

However, in a Complexity-informed approach, a middle course is steered: a degree of control is retained and exercised – and “constraints” of structure, contracts, organisation and hierarchy, etc, are relied on to an extent – but only as far as necessary to create the right conditions for success. 

Outcomes are guided (i.e. using “constraints” not negatively, obstacles are removed, and the dynamics of complexity are positively channeled or cultivated to foster emergence – the “innovation” that is so often called for by those that don’t recognise that it can’t be “made” to happen directly.

A helpful distinction can be made here between strategic plans and strategy – the former focus on prescriptive detail and tight controls, which are no longer appropriate; the latter has never been more important, providing the framework for creating the conditions within which to harness Complexity.

Strategy therefore becomes more about the Complexity dynamics of the “system” than about outcomes.

In particular, the organisation is significantly reconceived of as a network of teams (as opposed to the more traditional concept of task-specific teams working as adjuncts to existing structures).

More traditional hierarchical structures are retained for practical reasons – including to help initiate and coordinate teams – but the team is recognised and promoted as the most effective organisational “unit”.  

In this sense, teams are a pragmatic “constraint” – balanced between “command and control” and an absence of structure – but they enable the agility, fluidity and responsiveness needed in a complex world by being readily reconfigurable in how they work (both within each team and between teams). 

We’ll learn more about several other of these control-led “constraints” in the next section – in particular identifying the Things That Matter, Value Codes and the Value Realisation Cycle – but a key one, closely related to “control”, is that of the role of leadership.

We shall see more about how “leadership” in a Complexity-informed environment – the influence of others – increasingly becomes a behaviour that anyone can demonstrate (as opposed to a position that only a few are appointed to), but those in existing designated “leadership” roles are still crucial in responding to Complexity:

  • They are the “bridge” between the existing and new ways of doing things, legitimising and sponsoring the latter, and providing continuity and stability in a time of change.
  • They have the authority to implement the necessary controlling “constraints” we are discussing.
  • They are the individuals people will turn to for direction.

However, the particular challenge for existing “leaders” is that Complexity leads to a radically different conception of their role – not only must they help embed a new set of priorities for their organisations, using new strategies, but they also need new qualities to do so, and especially that of humility:

  • To acknowledge and respond to the (largely unfair but very real) perception that the current struggles are their fault.
  • To willingly acknowledge that they don’t (and can’t) know and understand everything and that intuition isn’t a viable means of compensating.
  • To act as a “catalyst”, “facilitator” and “moderator” ahead of the more familiar role of “directing”:
    • Helping create autonomy and empowerment for high-performing teams.
    • Allowing others to understand and shape strategy; not just be told what it is.
    • Being held accountable to everybody; not just for results but for explaining decisions.
  • Being willing to lessen a dependence on training and capability development – which are typically applied across the board (“a rising tide floats all boats”), task- and content-focused, aim to create “potential”, assume repeatability and disseminate “wisdom” from “on high”…
  • …and instead encourage self-learning and competence (especially the exercise of discernment), both of which are targeted to the situation, principle- and process-focused, centred on dealing with the “actual”, enable resilience and lead to the creation of wisdom.
  • To accept uncertainty and “imperfection” in outcomes.

All these things are alien within Complicated thinking, but come naturally with Complexity; as we saw in Part 2, they don’t necessarily come naturally to “leaders” or people in general.

When confronted with the uncertainty, unpredictability and changeability of Complexity – and in particular what is perceived and experienced to be “valuable” – it becomes more important than ever to continuously obtain and share the most valuable, accurate, relevant and timely information and feedback possible, to power and engender effective decision-making and action.

As explained in Part 1, information and feedback can be at many levels; as explained in Part 2, the challenges organisations are facing increasingly straddle, and require agility with, all of these levels: 

To achieve this, mastery of all of these levels needs to be both pervasive and implicit within an organisation – building on a concept known as “communicative rationality” – and the way to facilitate all this (building upon Peter Drucker’s famous maxim of “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”) is to prioritise measurement and change its purpose (“why”), focus (“what”) and process (“how”).  

This move from data “mining” (often managed by technology) to Complexity “prospecting” (managed by informed people) achieves engagement, motivation and change:

Changing how we do measurement
Existing: ComplicatedNew: Complex
Why is measurement carried out?
To (primarily) serve and/or placate “leaders”To (primarily) serve participants in value facilitation
To justify and review intuition and decisionsTo create learning, look forward and inform decisions
To be “about” what has happened and is happeningTo define and drive what is happening and will happen
To “audit” to reward or penaliseTo empower action and foster engagement
What measures are used?
Wide-ranging fixed measuresTargeted, flexible, situation-specific measures 
Gauges of mainly short-term tangiblesValue codes encompassing the long-term and intangible
High-level, survey-style “agree-disagree” style scoringDetailed, rich diagnostic parameters
“Issued” to participantsShaped by participants, fostering motivation.
How is measurement carried out and evaluated?
Frequent general survey feedback from the many, typically “agree-disagree” in response to high-level questions Continuous mass engagement with true, content-rich diagnostics 
Or infrequent specific feedback from the few (whether for “political” or practical reasons)
Typically consultant-led, to lead to workshopsContinuous crowdsourced learning, analysis and ownership, leading to change

And how are the conditions created that guide success by encouraging and enabling these new concepts of control, teams leadership and measurement to become embedded? 

By consciously and rigorously applying the understanding of Complexity we established in Part 1, its individual elements and how they work together as a “system”.  Rick Nason again:

“Once a challenge or an opportunity has been identified, the history of business entrepreneurship has repeatedly shown that it is capable of developing and producing creative and effective solutions. The sole remaining issue [in responding to complexity] is that the solution now needs to arise from complexity thinking rather than complicated thinking.”

2. New, Complexity-informed Tools and Processes

Our Complexity-informed tools duly and consciously mirror and harness Complexity’s different aspects – both individually and (especially) in combination – within our Value Management approach:

  • Value Coding:
    • A structure for articulating and measuring what good looks like for Things That Matter.
    • A library of 120 adaptable initial Value Codes, distilled from 80+, cross-referenced industry tools and methodologies.
    • A bridge between existing tools and methodologies and the new approach.
    • Diagnostic generation engine.
  • ARC Diagnostics:
    • Nine different purpose-appropriate Value Modes.
    • Limitlessly scalable assessment process management.
    • Extensible suite of analysis tools (which are also compatible with AI tools).
  • Knowledge Persistence and Learning Management platform:
    • Capture and tracking of resulting actions.
    • Sharing and embedding of emergent knowledge.

We will see how these tools appropriately use technology:

  • Benefiting from the ways in which it has accelerated Complexity to help harness Complexity.
  • Supporting people; not replacing them.
  • Using AI and Big Data judiciously; not as a panacea.

We will also see how these tools are deployed according to the repeatable, persistent and generic process of our Value Realisation Cycle.

Whilst any “process” is, in some ways, a “constraint”, the Value Realisation Cycle in no way prescribes content; it only “constrains” in that it contains the elements required by Complexity itself to encourage and harness emergence, and acting as a focal point and “guide” for doing so – a Complexity-informed approach that therefore gives form to Complexity.

So, as we saw in Part 1, when looking at what makes something Complex – a system, a challenge, etc – we begin with the “purpose, structure and traits” that define it and make it what it is: the foundation of Complexity.

Accordingly, at the heart of Value Management is establishing, and maintaining a relentless focus on, the Things That Matter when it comes to Value.

Sometimes described as the “Pareto” or “80/20” perspective, the challenge is to begin identifying (or “discerning”) what seems to be most fundamental, and where attention, action and the development of competence would seem likely to be most effective in facilitating value (Identify Issues in the Value Realisation Cycle) – not least as informed pragmatic choices about priority and focus have to be made, given finite resources.

There are three key points to make here.

Firstly, whilst most organisations would claim they are already focused on what matters, the reality is normally different:

  • We have already seen how focus is typically on the tangible and operational; the Things That Matter need to expand to cover the intangible, too, on as many levels as needed (and not least to bridge the gap between market and book valuations).  
  • In Part 2, we also saw how rigid, nested hierarchies become their own focus, distorting priorities.

Secondly, the use and emphasis of “seems” and “seem” in connection with the Things That Matter is very important – with things uncertain, unpredictable and changeable, the starting point is a hypothesis, or “value proposition”, usually initially made by leadership…

…and this is thirdly an appropriate “relocation” of experience and intuition on the part of leaders – to the “start” of the decision-making process; rather than exclusively at the end of it.

This hypothesis is informed and then tested and refined by Value Coding, which is the process and structure by which the Things That Matter are expressed and encapsulated to be effectively measured in one of the nine Value Modes – in Complexity terms, and again referring to Part 1, this is very similar to the point that there are “parts, participants or ‘agents’” (Generate Measures in the Value Realisation Cycle).

Value Codes can be written entirely from scratch or – at the other end of the scale – we have a diagnostic generation engine that can propose sets based on any combination of organisational priority and focus (see the OPF in Part 1), existing tools used or intended audience.

However they are derived, though, each Value Code is a specific, discrete topic that can consist of several elements (depending on which Value Mode they will be used in), and these begin with a name – or label – that clearly identifies what the Value Code is about and a description that clarifies its coverage and scope.

Five score statements then progressively set out what good looks like, each of which has a label – e.g. Very Poor, Poor, Average, Good, Very Good – and each of which can have a description of what that level of attainment represents, to define the range of possible performance (and possibly also desirable).

Additional supporting information can also be included with each Value Code, such as which identified Things That Matter it relates to (and, where an existing Value Code is used, there is the additional or complementary option of detailing how it relates to other methodologies).

Whilst Things That Matter are often very situation-specific and often evoke an emotional response, Value Codes are generic, factual and emotion-free – a necessary progression for measurement.

In some cases, an identified Thing That Matters will be covered by just one Value Code (e.g. “Fairness”); in others, it naturally breaks down into several that reflect its different aspects (e.g. “Reliable Supply” could break down into logistics, resource management, contractual arrangements, portfolio management, and so on) – Value Codes therefore capture the measurable “outputs” for the “outcomes” required with the Things That Matter.

The discipline and process of selecting and developing Value Codes affords further reflection and insight into the hypothesis about the Things That Matter, the combination of “objective” scoring with “subjective” Value Code and score-level descriptions enables the previously intangible to be made measurable, and the articulation of progressive levels of achievement allows for the description of past, present and (potential) future states.

Value Coding is therefore a further form of “constraint” – pinning down and “narrowing” what given areas “mean” by defining them in this way.

However, when then used in conjunction with the capabilities of the Online Diagnostic Framework to engage and motivate a community, Value Codes become the essential basis for “emergence” of new insights (especially in addressing the hitherto unmet need of how to in insight into what is, and what may be, perceived as “valuable”, how and why) and making “appropriate choices” about what to do (and when).

So, as we again saw in Part 1, key related aspects of Complexity are the many, diverse “agents” (People) involved, a high level of networked connectivity between them, and the interactivity between them (especially flows of valuable information).

Moreover, Part 2 emphasised that, not least as People are part of the causes of Complexity, it is primarily the mobilisation of human intelligence that is needed in response.

What Value Management therefore makes achievable is the engagement of a whole community in both breadth and depth (Process Diagnostics in the Value Realisation Cycle).

This engagement is made possible by the efficiency, immediacy, security and economies of scale of online delivery (in other words, harnessing all the aspects of technology that contribute to complexity in the first place), and this engagement is encouraged by the Value Codes, which, in keeping with the new principles of measurement advanced above:

  • Vary in their configuration according to purpose (e.g. some diagnostic modes may merit the option to upload supporting evidence, to allow a “not applicable” answer, and so on).
  • Address specific recognised and relevant areas that help “make sense” of what is happening.
  • Allow for deliberate fact-based reflection (that isn’t possible in a workshop environment) – becoming an objective focus that moves away from the airing of subjective opinions – and help participants move beyond (or substantiate) “gut” assumptions.
  • Motivate, by showing what progress has already been made from the “past”, but – more importantly – what progress might be possible in the “future”, a foundation for working out how to achieve it and a yardstick against which to measure progress.
  • Foster morale and provide a powerful common language for change that is recognised by all – a language that has “emerged” from the most fundamental places within the organisation, and that anchors conversations and decisions.

Engaging at scale not only maximises the number of (diverse) contributions, but also “normalises” individual bias – also compensating for inevitable individual limitations – that could otherwise distort feedback on a smaller scale.

The analytical tools within the ARC Diagnostic Framework – in tandem with AI tools, where appropriate – then support discernment by providing “emergent” insights into (Report, Analyse, Decide in the Value Realisation Cycle):

  • The nature and organisation of a diverse community, through the ability to categorise participants into multiple roles – including the teams they are part of. 
  • What the overall community is saying (including the necessary surfacing of disagreement), through varying assessment of past, present and future states, the comments given, and so on. 
  • The differences that make a difference for forming and supporting specific teams, and garnering resources.
  • What should then be done, and with what scope.

Support for connectivity, networking and communication is then consolidated and completed via the Knowledge Persistence and Learning Management platform: completing the Value Realisation Cycle (Allocate, Act, Progress and Adapt, Embed, Scale), transparently making tangible and sharing what has been learned – especially best practice that others can review, emulate and refine – and tracking what is being done about it.  

This captured, shared learning then acts as the starting point for the next iteration of the Value Realisation Cycle, and so on toward continual and predictable, rapid iterations – the best way to respond and adapt to the continual rapid change of complexity, revealing possibilities from which successful patterns emerge through trial and error, can be communicated and adopted as (current) best practice and benefiting from the discipline and learning opportunities of a repeating process.

The Things That Matter, and the Value Codes they are “translated” into, become anchors or “golden threads” that are persistent across the organisation and throughout the Value Realisation Cycle as long as they remain relevant.

Hypotheses about them are necessarily tested and improved continually and errors corrected.

As knowledge, meaning, trust and confidence increase, the community (and the teams it is comprised of) is increasingly empowered to decide and change its own measures, and generate its own learning.

Similarly, whilst the Things That Matter and Value Codes initially act as a “bridge” between the “top-down” perspective of what is valuable and the “bottom-up perspective” that comes from feedback (and the insights derived from it), repeated iterations of the process:

  • Further harmonise these perspectives, organically.
  • Erode the physical and temporal disconnects between decision-makers and the front-line (and between the Things That Matter and those that are affected by, and influence, them).
  • Support the multiplication of networked connections and interactions within the community alongside existing hierarchies – especially the fluid reconfiguration of teams – which supports the necessary conditions for innovation: unpredictability or “emergence” harnessed.
  • Reveal true “leadership” within particular teams and in particular areas – a “behaviour” open to all and assumed through passion, responsibility and demonstrating excellence, rather than an appointed role.
  • Reawaken and spread the entrepreneurial spirit that resides in everyone, and that initially drove the formation of the organisation, but that operational focus has typically stifled and/or reserved for the few.
  • Achieve true, rich and continuous competence-based accountability amongst peers; not just intermittent, enforced accountability to higher levels of management.
  • Dissolve the need for “change management” and convincing people of strategy, because they themselves direct the change and help set the strategy.
  • Allow for the workshop to become scalable again – the importance, value and scalability of workshops being inversely proportional to the specificity and power of the diagnostic used – as its purpose is refined from a general “get people talking” to become a specific tool to use when necessary as the “centre” of what leads activity “hands over” to diagnostics.

From initial deliberate intervention to foster engagement, levels of motivation build and powerful change then becomes second nature – the necessary delicate balances between control and flexibility, and between constraint and focus, are achieved, delivering the alignment, resilience and coherence so desperately needed. 

For the first time, technology increases effectiveness within complexity – the “innovation”, perhaps paradoxically, being to use what is already inherently true of Complexity and applying it to what is already present within the organisation: an entirely natural process.

It does this by working with Complexity; not against it.  The dynamics of Complexity naturally lead to “emergence”, which – appropriately encouraged, guided and harnessed – naturally delivers the “innovation” that is so often presented as The Answer to today’s challenges but without any sense of what it involves or how to achieve it.

3. What Is Needed To Get Going

“But how can this ‘holy grail’ of organisational fitness be achieved?”

Organisational Complexity, p62

“How [can your organisation] be nimbler when decisions [need] approvals up a steep chain of command? How [can your organisation] pursue innovation when all its systems and processes [are] devoted to preserving the status quo and extracting the gains from efficiency? How [can your organisation] encourage creativity and collaboration when the basic structure of work [involves] having bosses tell individuals what to do? How [can] trust and transparency be achieved when the vertical chains of command of a bureaucracy inherently [foster] nontransparency? How [can your organisation] innovate with a dispirited, even disruptive, workforce?”.

– Stephen Denning – The Age of Agile, p64

The key to getting started is to both carefully examine the existing situation and make the most of what is already in place, and there are “away from the negative” and “toward the positive” reasons for doing so.

Most basically, it isn’t practical to simply abandon or “abolish” all that’s gone before – not least because of the huge investments represented in it – and we already mentioned above how existing leaders and the structures they work within can be instrumental in putting in place the necessary “constraints” to form a “bridge” between the existing and new ways of doing things.

Whilst one reason for examining the existing situation is that there is often a widespread lack of awareness of how grave the situation is – whether through ignorance or complacency – it should also be recognised that there may well be latent capacity for harnessing Complexity that adopting new approaches will reveal: past performance isn’t necessarily the sole predictor of future performance, so there is an element of “baby and bathwater” here, too.

But the most profound reason is that there will remain Complicated challenges, where existing structures and approaches are entirely appropriate and optimal, and hierarchies and structure remain important in Complexity, too: the task for the organisation is therefore not just to be able to adopt Complexity-informed approaches, but to also be able to discern where they are necessary and where they aren’t.

Where they aren’t, this means also pursuing excellence in more traditional ways, and whilst the Value Realisation Cycle and Complexity-informed tools have been introduced in responding to complexity, a focus on Value is agnostic about – and sits “above” – the distinction between Complex vs Complicated.

Diagnostic tools are therefore equally powerful when used in pursuit of more traditional goals (e.g. note how some of the Value Modes are explicitly focused around training, auditing, etc).

Overall, then, a truly Complexity-informed approach is therefore one where new, Complexityappropriate ways of working coexist with Complicated structures and approaches, but the organisation is no longer constrained by one approach  and can consciously switch and balance between them as needed, within a generic approach and using a generic set of tools: 

These approaches typically reflect different Lifecycle stages, and whilst deploying the wrong approach is – as we have seen – disastrous, situation-specific implementation of the appropriate operating model is devastatingly effective.

Overall organisational headroom increases through a “virtuous circle” of improvement, resulting in greater flexibility, versatility and resilience, which in turn increases options and reduces risk.

But this is why understanding the existing situation is so crucial to getting started, as it is this that reveals – and helps the organisation discern – what the “portfolio” of challenges is, how they all fit together, which are Complicated vs Complex, and therefore where to first introduce new ways of operating.

To get started, an organisation therefore needs a nucleus of leaders that is prepared to relentlessly champion this vision of discernment (including resisting an exclusive focus on cost and shareholder value) – and it is a vision, as it involves taking a long view – and begin realising it by introducing a Diagnostic-led approach that engages their organisation’s community as widely as possible – both within its boundaries and beyond – to gain insights into the makeup of the community and what it is saying. 

As set out above, this may involve an initial hypothesis about what the Things That Matter are – to drive the Value Codes used – or it could simply be that existing assessment tools are simply encapsulated and re-expressed in the ARC Diagnostic Framework (perhaps with some complementary Value Codes if there are serious gaps identified) to occasion feedback and discover what the community values most.

Either way, an appropriate Value Mode must be selected to start introducing the new approach and challenging engrained practices, based on a combination of organisational priority and tried-and-tested deployment sequences.

For example, when looking to introduce new cultural priorities and build capability, we have found that a Mode 2 “Value Awareness / Familiarisation” diagnostic typically needs to be run first, to share expectations – initially through self assessment, perhaps, and then through comparing perspectives – ahead of assessing what interventions might be needed in Modes 3 and 4 (“Current Value Capability / Readiness” and “Identify Gaps to Address”).  Otherwise, the Things That Matter won’t have been formed or agreed to by the community, and the process will likely stall.

Equally, if there is a particular high-value relationship in difficulty that needs immediate action, a Mode 6 “Evaluate Value in Action” diagnostic has been found to be a powerful starting point – often as the first of a sequence of three “cycles” that owes a debt to Russell L. Ackoff:

  1. “Resolve”: accept the situation as it is, and explore a handful of high level areas to begin to diffuse pent up emotions and tensions (which would otherwise act as a barrier to progress), surface potential issues and hint that something really will change in future.
  2. “Solve”: explore and verify the issues with richer Value Codes to shift emphasis towards constructive engagement  and show the community that it is being heard.
  3. “Dissolve”: focus on transformational measurement using Value Codes derived from, and evolving out of, 2 (and then continue to repeat).

Whatever the initial Value Mode, though, the approach must then be relentlessly pursued and the Value Realisation Cycle completed to win buy-in and (genuine) trust – if any stage is neglected or omitted, the result will be the dissipation of engagement and motivation, and a missed opportunity to embed change in future: there is nothing worse for a community struggling with the challenges of Complexity to be shown a possible way forward that is then withdrawn or peters-out through inertia.

To mitigate against these risks, optimise buy-in and anticipate and answer the inevitable “where’s the value?” questions, a central aim of the initial cycle(s) should be to focus on present needs (not future goals) in an area or areas with extremely high benefit and value – where applicable, as close to the customer experience as possible.

Some further possible candidates:

  • Trying to ensure that desired culture, values and behaviours are measurable and reflected throughout the organisation and/or wider value chain.
  • Struggles with data issues – whether too much of it or missing key information and metrics.
  • Establishing and demonstrating corporate social responsibility and social value.
  • Entering a new market phase with a key product, service or category.
  • Changes in legislative or regulatory requirements.
  • Repeating mistakes at the front line without lessons being learned about how to avoid and/or remedy them.

Organisations then need to not target change at the familiar operational, “surface” optimising levels, but instead aim to effect change at as fundamental level as possible, e.g. a change at the level of “culture” will have a more profound impact than one at the level of “processes”:

And they probably need to achieve this on the initially small scale of one or several relatively small teams to prove the concept – not just of the new diagnostic approach and its “reach” into managing the Complex, but also of the team concept.

In practice, this means an initial apparent “paradox” that the set-up of what is intended to be autonomous is specifically led and directed from “outside”, but this is a necessary first step; it also means that the team is directly involved in analysing the Diagnostic feedback, shaping measures for future cycles (including the diagnostic modes to use, where there are several well-trodden sequences) and – subject to appropriate governance – deciding on its actions, all of which can then act as a template for self-reinforcing spreading and scaling.

The power and elegance of Value Management is that it can be entered into at different stages, operated in different ways and deployed at different scales, but always enables and rewards discernment for individuals, teams and organisations – discernment that means that Complexity need no longer be feared, but instead welcomed.

Through adopting and applying this new, holistic, fully Complexity-informed mindset and toolset, organisations can now finally develop the required new skillset to:

  • Harness the emergent knowledge and self-organisation that Complexity generates. 
  • Gain sufficient understanding to make reasonable judgements and discerning decisions.
  • Make enough sense of what previously appeared to be chaos, and both steer and benefit from it.
  • Achieve extreme effectiveness, realised potential and spectacular competitive advantage.