Systems: Live and Working in A VUCA WOrld

“Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”

W. Edwards Deming and Paul Batalden

In every aspect of our daily lives we rely on systems to help us function. We rely on:

  • Plumbing systems to get ready in the morning- water for the shower and to make the coffee.

  • Electrical systems to toast the bread, turn the lights on and off, open the garage door.

  • Road and transit systems to get us safely to work or school or the grocery store.

  • Body systems to breath and oxygenate our bodies, drink, eat and process food to fuel our bodies, blood systems to pump in a continual flow, skeletal systems to keep us upright and more…

  • Elevator systems to get us up to the 30th floor.

And this is all before 9 am!
We take most of these systems for granted until they don’t work as we have come to expect. Imagine what happens when one of these systems fails. Hot water tank fails, and we have no hot water to shower or bathe; an accident on the roadways or a late bus throws our whole schedule off for the day; we wake up with a virus that makes us sick or tired or feverish and we don’t have the energy to do what we need to that day.

All of these ‘system malfunctions’ are familiar and can cause us anxiety when they occur. We adjust, we shift but we are definitely impacted, if even briefly, when they occur.

 And these are just the systems we can see and touch.

What about the systems that are also present throughout our day that are less visible? That we take for granted as well, until one of them fails or does not work as we expect.

You show up at work and your normally kind and respectful co-worker snaps at you over something seemingly insignificant. Your brother calls to tell you about an interaction he had with another family member that caused him emotional pain. He called you because you know about this dynamic, having experienced it yourself. You arrive at work and find your boss has been let go and a new leader is in charge. Your community experiences a trauma- a neighbor is attacked and badly injured or there is a mass shooting—too many of these in the news lately—and nowhere feels safe.

All of these create anxiety and fear in the human systems around us- those that are largely invisible but always present in every interaction and environment we live, work and play in.

The world has become increasingly complex and while some of these circumstances require fairly straight forward response and solutions, many of them are not solvable problems and require both a different kind of leadership and a radically different approach to create a new path forward.

The same thinking that got us to where we are is not going us where we need to go.

And while we may intuitively know that this is true, many of us have a default in our mental and emotional operating system that keeps us stuck in the old patterns because to try something new is frightening and the unknown is daunting.

The acronym VUCA- Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous—is increasingly used to describe the world we live in. The political climate in our country is volatile. The only thing that is certain is uncertainty. Classic problem-solving methods no longer deliver good results. And despite an overwhelming amount of information and data available, we are often required to make decisions and move forward without sufficient clarity on what to do next.

In the coming weeks, we will explore systems dynamics- both human and organizational- and how we can navigate this VUCA world with a whole new approach that shifts anxiety to calm and fear to courage.

But get ready, it will mean letting go of what you know and have relied on in order to shift into  a new way of engaging and interacting with yourself and others.

We will start by exploring the work of David Snowden at the Cognitive Edge and learn about his Cynefin Framework (there is a brief introduction here if you’d like to get started now) as a Sense-making tool for navigating complexity in order to act.

Topics coming up will include:

  • Navigating Complexity to Gain Perspective

  • Navigating Complexity to Address Issues Differently

  • Navigating Complexity by Not Knowing

  • Understanding Family Systems for Leadership

  • The Well Defined Leader

  • Leading in Anxious and Uncertain Times

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