Agility by yaosaigeng


									     Leadership in a Complex World
       Learning from nature and natural systems
                Ian Abbott Donnelly (

There is a common tendency to consider organisation as machines since it
gives us a sense of control when we bolt together the components and begin
to predict the outcome of our efforts. This mechanical metaphor has
worked well in situations that are simple and stable. People know what to do
and can get on and do it without fear of much changing.

However, other insights are more useful when an organisation is complex
and its environment is constantly changing. Increasingly we are able to learn
from the science of living systems since they operate in a complex
environment and have the ability to adaptive to produce some incredibly
resilient organisations.

Nature‟s complex adaptive systems are all around us:

   Weather systems

   Ecologies

   Embryos

   Nervous systems

   Immune systems

Insights from the scientific study of natural systems can help us
understand what goes on in human organisations, This knowledge can help us
improve they way we deliver improvements, the way we interact and the our

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ability to respond to the challenges of customer demand and competitive
pressure. By allowing us to see through the complexity and understand some
of the inherent patterns and behaviours the energy of the organisation can
be focused on productive outcomes.

High on the agenda of many leaders is the need to improve agility,
communication and delivery. Insights from Complexity Science can provide
valuable new thinking and new practice in these three areas.

Of course these concepts overlap and interact strongly. However it is
useful to bring specific aspects into focus to understand their importance
and explore their application.

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“Agility” is having the faculty of moving quickly; to be nimble and active; the
capacity to evolve with your changing environment.

To be successful in a competitive environment an organisation needs the
ability to implement changes more efficiently and effectively than

This is not an aim in its own right, just an important strategy to enable
sustainable success.

Organisations are agile when they have:
       Fast, effective modification of operations
       A capacity to deal with unanticipated problems and opportunities
       The ability to rapidly re-deploy resources and adjust structures
       A continuous flow of unpredicted activity
       Speed, grace, dexterity and resourcefulness
       An attitude of managing the unexpected as a strategic asset
       Shared purpose
       A refusal to be trapped by the success of the past
       Uninhibited dialogue, feedback, and open constructive contention
       High tolerances of ambiguity

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Ideas That Matter for Agility
      Self-organisation
      Heedful interrelations
      Tuning to the edge
      Mental models

Self-organisation is possibly the most important idea for enabling agility. In
a complex changing environment where new solutions need to be created
this offers a highly intelligent and responsive way of developing. In a
traditional organisation a few at the top of an organisation construct
strategies, policies and plans aiming to focus the organisation on the
solution that will deliver results.

Unfortunately this top down, command and control approach has some
serious limitations – the information they are working with is often
historical and summarised, and the amount of brainpower and diversity of
views is constrained simply because small numbers of people are involved.
When the solution does emerge it is often late, cast in stone because of
the seniority and personal investment of its designers and has little in the
way of diverse input.

Self-organisation by comparison is about creating the conditions where
order can emerge. The aim is to find order that is dynamic, which can
respond to current conditions and change rapidly as they unfold. It aims to
maximise the use of intelligence, resources and diversity in the

Based on the study of natural systems self–organising behaviour emerges
when organisations:
    Are sufficiently populated
    Have a population that is far from equilibrium and
    Are properly interconnected.

The interactions that result then create new order;

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      Proteins into cells
      Cells into organs
      Organs into organisms
      Organisms into societies

Self-organisation is visible in many places from molecular chemistry to jazz
groups, from flocks of birds to technology networks. However, our
tendency is to stifle this natural behaviour by imposing detailed controls in
the human organisations we create.

The key principle is:

      ‘Interaction of simple parts, which are networked together’.

A single ant, a single brain cell or a single Internet computer is not very
useful, however a few million connected together with a few simple guiding
principles can do amazing things. This self-organising behaviour, known as
emergence, is one of the fundamental mechanisms driving evolution in the
natural world.

Most organisations have too little information flow, too little diversity and
too many differentials in power to enable self-organisation. To enable
agility it is vital to create the conditions for self-organisation. Command
and control organisations are simply not fast enough or flexible enough to
cope with a rapidly changing environment.

An agile human organisation does however throw up some issues.

Agile organisations are by definition impossible to control. They are,
however, possible to lead. Instead of giving commands you need to give
meaning, vision, feedback, purpose and space to let self-organisation work.
The important concept for leaders is that control is replaced by feedback.
Feedback is the thing that enables dynamic stability and dynamic stability
is what creates resilience in changing conditions.

What constitutes a valuable employee in an agile organisation is worth
highlighting. In a traditional command and control organisation value is
created through holding authority, distributing resources and gathering
information. However in agile organisations sharing resources and

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information, while constructively challenging authority to find better ways
of working creates value.
One of the reasons agility is often restricted is that in the hierarchy of a
mechanical organisation chart there is no box for a „hyperlinked‟ worker –
that is someone who knows how to get things done, where to find knowledge
and who has a wide range of collaborative relationships. These roles do
exist in many organisations. However they operate in the informal shadow
organisation. (For more an explanation of the shadow organisation see the Communication section)

Heedful interrelations
Heedful interrelations are when people begin to connect with each other on
several levels. There is a heightened sense of what is going on, people are
listening, observing, sharing and providing constructive feedback.
Interactions happen very quickly, trust abounds and you even begin to get
predictive collaboration. Heedfulness can be viewed as group intelligence.

Many field sports such as football, cricket, hockey or rugby rely heavily on
heedful interrelations. Imagine how poorly a team would play if they were
organised on the lines of a business project teams. The experienced players
spend most of their time in a separate office or at meetings, the players
would communicate largely by email before passing the ball or they would
need to sit through a PowerPoint presentation before they can move onto
the next action.

Some practical measures to maximise the amount of heedful interrelation
are to:
 Create a common purpose that is clear to all the participants
 Enable people to work together on issues rather than create fragmented
 Share stories - both aspirations of success and insights into
   challenging issues
 Take care of newcomers - help them learn and value their perspective
 Seek to combine experience and innovation
 Encourage leadership at all levels

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Heedful interrelations may at first seem like a soft skill, possibly even a
luxury. It is however one of the essential skills in harsh and demanding
organisations: e.g.

The busy flight deck of an aircraft carrier.

Imaging the crew operating in a rough sea,
under hostile conditions, with the radar
switched off and with many lives at risk.
Heedful interrelations are essential to
maintain high reliability in this dynamic

The tight grouping of an orchestra.

 It is the heedful interrelations between
players and conductor and among the
players that can turn a technical
performance into a stunning masterpiece.

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Tuning to the edge
Most organisations, from small teams to large corporations display complex
behaviour. They need to constantly adapt and re-organise themselves to
respond to an ever changing business and social environment. If they
change too little they become non-competitive, if they change too much
they fall into the instability of chaos where demand exceeds capacity. It
takes careful observation and reflection to understand where they are on
this graph and so be able to tune the amount of change in the right

Agility is about „Tuning to the edge‟:
at the edge, beyond stability, but
not so far as chaos.

                                   „On the Edge‟

       Placid Lake -           Planing Sailing Boat -         Crashing Waves -
         Stability                  Complexity                     Chaos

The important thing for leaders is that „on the edge‟ small changes can
produce large effects – the link is non-linear.

Whereas in stable situations small changes produce small effects and it is
only through huge effort that large effects are produced.
In chaos the effect of both small and large changes is lost in the turmoil,
huge amounts of effort and energy produce few constructive results.

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Therefore taking an organisation to the edge is a very productive place to
be. It is the most creative and adaptable place to be. The reason small
changes produce big effects on this edge is because the connectivity and
interaction enable emergent behaviour that feeds back on itself cascading
and multiplying throughout the system.

Rigid approaches that focus only on efficiency produce organisational
machines with no ability to adapt, little ability to learn and no capacity to
fix themselves. One slight change in its environment and the effects can be

Mental Models of Individuals

In a human organisation everyone is an individual – free to act in ways that
are not predictable. An individual‟s action changes the context for those
the individual is connected to. This combination of personal mental models,
independent actions and dynamic interrelations makes what happens in
practice very complex.

This story of Michael Parkinson (the chat show host) at a dinner party
illustrates the individuality of mental models. He was seated next to an
American lady who he had never met before; they got on well and began
talking about many different subjects. Eventually they began talking about
cricket, a passion of Michael Parkinson‟s. Since this was an unfamiliar sport
for the American she asked all kinds of questions that Michael was very
happy to explain. They became engrossed in the detail of this quaint
English sport: the tactics, the equipment, the language, and the etiquette.
The conversation unfolded over about an hour before it was time to leave

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the table. The American lady added one last comment about her new found
interest in cricket: „Gee… and they do all that on horseback!‟

Individuals operate according to their own mental model of what the
organisation is about - their own set of rules for interpreting and
responding. These rules are not explicit and may not even look logical to
Fortunately people can share mental models, even if sometimes it is a little
inaccurate. This is an important mechanism for an organisation to learn. It
is these shared mental models that allow powerful co-ordinated behaviour
to emerge.

The interconnection of individuals sharing mental models creates great
potential for agility. As new understanding ripples through an organisation a
small change in one place can have a significant effect overall.

There is however a paradox. Coherence in mental models is important but so
too is diversity. It is the interplay of these two that enables agility.

In situations of complex change things are far from equilibrium and
therefore the insights of Complex Adaptive Systems becomes useful.

Individual mental models are the key to understanding. You don‟t see
something unless you have the right metaphor to make sense of it.

To enable agility, organisations need to create high levels of knowledge,
capability, process, networking, and feedback. Unfortunately these are not
things that are often found on organisation charts and rarely found in
corporate strategy papers. Organisations often have the vision and the
resources to enable change but not the internal dynamics to be agile.

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Agility Summary
To improve agility an organisation needs to look beyond its static assets,
resources and formal structure to develop the dynamics of the
organisation. It needs to embrace the ideas of self-organisation, heedful
interrelations, tuning to the edge and constantly sharing mental models to
enable agility.

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…the ability to create sustainable order.

Leaders are constantly being challenged to deliver; be it products, services,
customer satisfaction, innovation, revenue or cost savings.

In a world that changes little, a mechanical command and control approach
can produce effective delivery. However as the environment in which an
organisation operates becomes more complex then command and control can
often result in little more than large amounts of activity. An analogy is to
imagine trying to direct a school of tropical fish in a swirling tide with the
aid of detailed budgets, plans, policies and job descriptions – lots of activity
but little delivery. Human organisations are not so different.

Living systems are masters of delivery in complex dynamic environments. By
understanding how living systems enable order to emerge, we can counter
the tendency of our human organisations to wallow in disorder.

Delivery is particularly useful for human organisations since it is often the
source of credibility, funding, personal fulfilment for workers and delight
for customers.

Organisations deliver when they:
 Can respond to the changing aspirations of the stakeholders
 Have processes that go beyond the simplistic optimal solutions
 Create the capacity to direct resources to where they are needed
 Maintain an attitude that is constructive and open to alternatives

Ideas That Matter for Delivery
   Delay
   Fitness and Exploration
   Flocking
   Paradox

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Delay in an organisation is a significant problem for delivery. Not so much
because a delay means delivery happens slowly, but because it disconnects
the processes and the feedback loops which in turn produces large amounts
of complexity. Even a very simple organisation can be thrown into chaos if
delay is introduced.

Imagine trying to drive a car where there is a delay between the steering
wheel and the road wheels. The delay means that your responses oscillate
between under-reaction and over-reaction. This constant radical
adjustment in direction will mean you expend and waste a lot of energy and
attention and the journey from A to B will be high risk

The lesson for delivery is to look for and work eliminating sources of delay.
The aim is reconnect the processes and feedback loops by allowing them to
use the same information source.

 In the worst cases delay can produce a vicious feedback loop, where a
small delay results in actions that then produce even more delay.

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By taking out delay, speed is likely to increase. Though this is useful, the
more important reason for taking out delay is because it is a source of
complexity which can quickly amplify negative effects. Think of the knock
on consequences of a delay in a rail journey, or a flight or some medical
treatment - all kinds of complications occur for both service operators and

A great deal of confusion, frustration, misunderstanding, over-reaction and
tension can be avoided if you can take out the delay in a system. Without
these delivery is much more achievable.

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Fitness & Exploration: The hill climbing trap
As organisations become successful they often loose the ability to explore
their environment that can have a significant impact on delivery. They fall
into the trap of hill climbing – that is, always trying to go further up the
same hill, that is the known solution that has brought them success. In a
complex environment with many hills (i.e. many possible solutions) this single
hill strategy is likely to produce results that are far from the best - you
only ever get to the top of the hill you are on. When faced with a complex
changing environment some resources need to be directed at exploring
other hills that may prove more productive. Though there is risk in this
strategy, exploration in natural systems demonstrate that this has a much
greater chance of delivery.

A competitive environment might be imagined a little like a physical
landscape where the peaks represent successful places to be. This is often
known as a „fitness landscape‟
A single peak represents when conditions are well known and stable. In a
complex environment there are many peaks and these peaks come and go
influenced by emerging trends in technology, regulation, resources and
education – the landscape becomes dynamic.

Single peak                                        Multiple peaks

The environment soon becomes complex and there is no single obvious peak.
So the idea of one optimal solution soon becomes an invalid concept and the
traditional approach of defining detail strategic plans can quickly be come
counter productive.

In a complex environment successful delivery shifts towards organisations
that are good at both hill climbing and exploration. This kind of agility is
enabled by encouraging leadership at all levels in the organisation. The
Delivery strategy then becomes a combination rigorous exploration and the
flexibility to respond to what is found.

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Flocking is the behaviour that emerges in nature when you have large
numbers of individuals interacting. Through computer simulation this kind
of complex adaptive behaviour can be created through a small number of
simple rules. Each individual:
 Attempts to maintain a minimum distance from all other individuals.
 Attempts to match speed with other individuals in the neighbourhood.
 Attempts to move to the centre of the flock

In nature this flocking can enable
groups to find food more easily,
defend themselves against
predators, flow around obstacles,
and defend territory.

Though we cannot infer that nature works exactly like the simulation it
does give us an insight into how complex behaviour AND order can emerge
from the interaction of a large number of individuals without central

Flocking suggests an approach for responding to threats, focusing
resources and creating order in human organisations.
This collective behaviour of connected individuals is often lost in the formal
structures of hierarchies and the fragmented optimisation of departments
and processes.

When striving to deliver results in human organisations these insights
suggest that success can emerge by enabling complex responsive
behaviours. Instead of defining and planning in ever more detail a
specification of what needs to be delivered, the key in a complex situation
is to provide a small set of rules and allow individuals to interact, thereby
creating the conditions for order to emerge.

Far from being a vague hope that something might emerge, science has
show empirically from nature, mathematically from computer simulations
and physically from chemistry and biology that emergent order is an
important driving force for evolution.

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By bringing together ideas and opportunities organisation can create a much
bigger „possibility space‟ for dealing with the challenges of complex world.
Instead of working with the limiting logic of „Either/Or‟ it is useful to seek
the complexity of „And/Both‟

In the quest for delivery it is often the combination of
things that creates the innovation that is of value:
 BOTH high quality AND low cost
 BOTH fast AND reliable
 BOTH aesthetic AND easy of manufacture

Because these combinations are often not easy to discover and there is a
tendency to stop at the first solution we find, the creative process is not
easy. However if you want to deliver something of real value then this
„And/Both‟ paradox is a useful place to look.

Nature constantly combines simple reliable components into ever more
complex combinations. This process operates at many levels: in molecular
chemistry, in biology and in ecosystems.

To deliver in a complex world there is a need to seek out and work with
paradox. Relentlessly seeking partnership between ideas, individuals, teams,
technologies, suppliers and customers.

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Delivery Summary
Delivery in complex situations shifts from the mechanical logic of command
and control to creating the conditions where order can emerge.

Taking delay out of the situation can significantly reduce complexity.
Exploring the competitive landscape can reveal new peaks of success.
Flocking can enable order to emerge and resources to be rapidly moved to
where they are needed. Paradox can be a rich source of possibility and

When the environment is rapidly changing, leadership should be seen as a
cultivator rather than as a controller.

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Communication is one of the fundamental enablers in any organisation. On a
small scale this happens naturally however as the organisation grows a
consequence of the fragmentation is that communication is stifled and we
need to work hard to create viable ways of communicating.

However many of the mechanical solutions to this problem often make
things worse:

     Increasing the formal communication channels makes the
      organisation stiff and looses sight of important feedback
     Cascading messages through the hierarchy is slow and suffers from
      filtering, translation and irrelevance.
     Adding more and more detail to the communication creates confusion
      and bureaucracy

Ideas That Matter for Communication
   Shadow Organisation
   Connectivity
   Minimum Specification

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Shadow organisation

When we look at an organisation from a mechanical point of view we see the
legitimate structures, the formal hierarchy, the rules, the set
communication patterns, the procedures and the routines.

However when we begin to look at an organisation as a complex adaptive
system, we see additional things – tuning in to the uncertainty and
connectivity we can begin to see the shadow organisation:

Behind the scenes, we see the hallway conversations, the grapevine, the
informal procedures for getting things done, the unwritten rules.

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Many eminent thinkers have looked into this shadow organisation – e.g.
Ralph Stacey, Robert Denhardt, Carl Jung, Larry Hirschorn

However most traditional management theory either ignores this or
advocates that we do battle with it to „overcome resistance to change‟

Much of the language of leaders stresses the importance of being in
control of things – delivering on time, to specification and within budget.

If you lead with an understanding of how complex systems work you will
recognise that the shadow organisation is simply more connected and often
has stronger interrelations than the legitimate organisation. You also
recognise that you do not need to discredit it, or agonise over it, or combat
it, since by its very nature it is uncontrollable.

Instead you will begin to value it, to listen to it, and recognise that it is an
important part of the larger system.

If leaders attempt to banish the shadow organisation it is never really
eliminated. Often it is strengthened by being submerged, and it will grow
without you knowing, order will emerge within it and it will catch you by
If things give rise to anxiety we are often tempted to react by covering
them up. I‟m sure you will know that this can be dangerous.

You need to build ways of listening to the shadow organisation – both
internally and externally.

The famous Dyson vacuum cleaners have an interesting link to the wider
shadow organisation of customers. A well-placed helpline number
immediately brings issues to the surface.

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Within minutes of using a customer using a new Dyson, if it doesn‟t work or
the instructions make no sense then these problems are brought to the
surface through the helpline and action can be taken on the feedback.

By contrast you can almost hear the executive board of other
manufactures once they have launched a new product “I don‟t want to hear
any negative talk about our new product we have spent £50M developing
and it is excellent”

The interesting thing about this shadow organisation is that it already lives
in this complex zone, it is the place where innovation is born and creativity
resides. Further more this is often where an organisation learns a great
deal, where people create and share mental models of how things really

When you look at an organisation as a machine (down in the left-hand
corner) you view human agents as being there to process information and
obey rule embodied in the hierarchy. At the top of the hierarchy there are
a few people who design the machine and the majority of people are there
as components to „do‟

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Disorder plays a vital role in organisations

In this space (overlap), is where the shadow organisation lives, people do
not know where they are going in the long term but through interaction
they can develop, discover and create a new direction though self-

To be more successful leaders need to:
 Have the courage to sometimes let go
 Listen to the shadow organisation
 Avoid submerging it and
 Value it as a source for creativity and innovation

The very survival of organisations requires you to work at the edge of
chaos – the shadow organisation is an important enabler.

I particularly like this quote from Ralph Stacey:

“The true role of a leader of a creative system is, not to foresee its future
and take control of the journey, but to contain the anxiety of its members
as they operate at the edge of chaos where they are creating and
discovering the new future that none could possibly foresee”

(Contain anxiety = use power in ways that do not create too much fear)

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        The Brain                    The Internet                     A social network

When we look at our organisations as complex adaptive systems we can see beneath
communication to the underlying connectivity. Connectivity is one of the essential means
by which order can emerge from complexity

Look at some of our most intelligent and adaptable organisation and think

               Look at our brains
               Look at the Internet
               Look at social groups

   The brain has a fantastic in-built ability to learn, the progress made by
    a child long before they go to school is wonderful to see.
   No one owns or controls the Internet yet it is the largest most reliable
    IT system mankind has built.

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   Social network are incredibly efficient at spreading news and
    establishing social norms.

Connectivity enables an organisation to be

   highly sensitive to its environment,
   highly resilient to disturbance and,
   create a self-organising structure without the need for command and

An important feature of connected networks is that their value as an
organisation increases exponentially with the number of connected
Metcalfe's Law states: that the usefulness, or utility, of a network equals
the square of the number of users.
Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com Corporation and the designer of the robust Ethernet protocol for
computer networks

        A telephone system with 1 connection is meaningless
        With 2 connections it begins to be useful
        With 1000 connections it becomes an incredibly useful tool

However the reality for many people is that organisations hinder
connectivity in all kinds of ways – physical, political, cultural and in the
struggle to gain power.

With our mechanical viewpoint, attempts to understand and control complex
situations can lead to an overwhelming tendency to break things down in
parts, to fragment tasks, to box things into projects, roles and
departments. How else can we comprehend and take action?

Research on living systems, chemistry and on mathematical models suggests
that connectivity is the key.
Stuart Kauffman and Iiya Prigogine have shown that a Complex Adaptive
System has the inherent property of self-organisation – it does not need
to be imposed from the outside.

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Too little connectivity and isolated stagnation will occur, however too much connectivity
and one small change will ricochet through the organisation and create chaos. To create
successful adaptive organisations the aim is to live in this complex region between the two.

How you „do‟ connectivity can appear fairly simple. Good examples of
connectivity combine a range of social and technology solutions that actively
engage people:

   Enable people to have dialogue around important subjects, a focused
    time to talk
   Implement technology like email/Intranets/Internet/discussion
   Have team briefings which share information and importantly gather
   Conduct meetings where people participate rather than just listen,
   Create physical environments where most of the activity is open and
   Encourage some informal contact where the social network is given
   Actively mix people across the functional and professional boundaries,
   Involve customers, partners and suppliers in the life of the organisation.

These things exist in many organisations, but so too do may obstacles to

   rules or social norms about who you can talk to and the chain of
   we often work in physical spaces where openness is difficult,
   a great many meetings taking place behind closed doors,
   intranets are often little more than online newsletters,

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   functional departments like to huddled together, cut off from

A leader’s role is not just to communicate; it is to create the conditions where everyone
in the organisation is richly connected.

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Minimum Specification

I would like to explore with you the value of an idea called „Minimum
Specification‟ and show how this can be useful as a communication strategy
in complex situations.

In essence minimum specification aims at:
Establish only those very few requirements necessary to define something,
leaving everything else open to the creative evolution of the Complex
Adaptive System
It is a small idea that becomes very important as leadership moves beyond
simple situations into areas where communication is difficult.

As Gareth Morgan described it, minimum specification is:
    „Creating the freedom to evolve and self-organise‟

Minimum specification is useful to consider when you are planning since its
aim is to maximise the „possibility space‟ and focus on the real essence of
the plan.

Minimum specification enables an organisation to move closer to the edge of
complexity, but not so far as chaos. It is also useful to provide direction to
bring a situation back from chaos.

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Through simple rules you can generate complex yet coherent behaviour.
A lot of real-world behaviour in projects, markets and business strategy
sits in this complex space. The individuals concerned have minds of their
own, the competitive environment is constantly changing and there is a large
amount of interaction.
However because we often have a mechanical mindset our first reaction
when faced with a complex situation to try to control the complexity or
eliminate it.

There are situations when maximum specification can work well. The
process of giving blood is a good example of where it is important that the
procedure is performed in a clockwork fashion with safe predictable
outcomes. Creativity in where to stick the needle is not useful!

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However when you are dealing with a Complex Adaptive System – that is:
many individuals, with minds of their own, interacting with each other, then
a minimum specification strategy can be a useful way to communicate and
work with the inherent complexity.

I would now like to do a brief exercise (it takes about 1 minute) to
illustrate 2 things:
 How our instinct to go for more detailed specification can be
 How minimum specification, with purposeful variation can be useful

This Paper Tear exercise comes from a book called The Systems Thinking
Playbook by Linda Booth Sweeney & Dennis Meadows

You need to close your eyes throughout the exercise, do not talk and
carefully follow the directions exactly.

The goal is for everyone to produce identical patterns with their pieces of

   Fold your paper in half and tear off the bottom right corner of the

   Fold the paper in half again and tear off the upper right hand corner.

   Fold the paper in half again and tear off the lower left hand corner.

   Now open your eyes, unfold you paper and hold it up for all to see.

Specifications do not always result in consistent output.

You might be able to think of situations in your own organisations where you
have been very specific about specifications and found a similar variation.

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The key question here is that if our goal is for everyone to produce
identical patterns - do we go down the route of more maximum specification
or do we use minimum specification?
If we chose maximum specification we would need to get into defining how
you hold the paper, numbering each corner, explaining how to fold towards
you and not away, how big the tear should be etc. Besides being very
bureaucratic, inefficient and slow, each additional step opens up the
possibility of misinterpretation and variation.

If however we think about this situation as a complex adaptive system
there is another strategy – By concentration on a small number of simple
rules and enabling feedback loops we could get much closer to our goal.

For example we could:
   Describe the output and leave the methods to the local situation. E.g.
    „Can you all make one of these… hold up the sample‟

   We could increase information flow by asking you to open your eyes and
    allowing people to talking.

   We could enable feedback by adjusting the instruction based on what
    was happening.
The key point is that there is a natural (perhaps learned) instinct to use a
communication style that increase the specification whenever the initial
specifications fails to produce the desired result: more rules, policies,
guidelines, manuals etc. In many situations this can produce more
complexity, which in turn creates more variation, greater delay and

Minimum specification can help:
   • Communication because it focuses on the critical essence of an
      initiative and does not cloud the issue with bureaucratic detail.
   • It can also help Agility since it does not limit the organisation to one
      solution, allowing the emerging solution to react to feedback.
   • And it can help Delivery since it encourages the individuals in the
      organisation to think about what it is doing and fit the solution to
      their specific context while focusing on the essential essence of the
                            Ian Abbott Donnelly

                     31   Ian AD (

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