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Welcome to newsletter No “lucky” 13. There has been some research recently which indicates that luck is really about how we respond to the world and the situations that we face. If we are able to see the new opportunities that are revealing themselves rather than attempting to always return to our comfort zone, then we are lucky. In that vein the following book review is apposite, The quotes are worth a good ponder.

Book Review

This book review is taken from the Plexus Newsletter

“Managing the Unexpected” by Karl Weick

"One of the great challenges any...organization can face is how to deal the with unexpected. While traditional managerial practices such as planning are designed to managed unexpected events, they often makes things worse." (book jacket)
Learn about the mindsets and practices developed by two prominent organizational researchers, Karl Weick and Kathleen Sutcliff, to manage the unexpected. They have identified 5 characteristics of "high reliability organizations" which together they term mindfulness.
To give you a bit more of a flavor for this very important and insightful book, here are a few selected quotations.
"Safety is elusive because "it is a dynamic non-event - what produces the stable outcome is constant change rather than continuous repetition." (page 30)
"A silent contributor to mindlessness is the zeal found in most firms for planning." (page 43)
"It takes variety to control variety. If people work in a varied, complex environment, those people need varied complex sensors to register the environmental complexities." (page 62)
"The mode of resilience is based on the assumption that unexpected trouble is ubiquitous and unpredictable; and thus accurate advance information on how to get out of it is in short supply...Unlike anticipation, which encourages people to think and then act, resilience encourages people to act while thinking or to act in order to think more clearly." (pages 69-70)
"When events get outside normal operational boundaries, knowledgeable people self-organize into ad hoc networks to provide expert problem solving." ( page 71)
"In dynamic environments, conventional practices of good management can conceal more than they reveal." (page 82)
"If you're uncertain, that's a good sign that you're in touch with reality because there is little that is certain in the indeterminate world of trying to organize in the face of continuous change." (page 165)
"Build excess capacity. Don't overdo lean, mean ideals. The lean, mean organization may sparkle in the short run, but it may also crash and burn at the first unexpected jolt because leanness strips the organization of resilience and flexibility." (page 167)

Complexity and Leadership

I have posed in previous newsletters the question “what role does leadership have in complex adaptive systems?” When I posed this question to an on-line group I had a range of interesting replies and the following comment was in response to the general debate, which I would like to share with you.
“Any strategy that is fixed will turn defensive leading to lost transparency. Strategies act very much like rules made to be broken or at least kicked against or manipulated to suit individual needs. In a way the fundamental issue of creating value and improving our business has to be looked at as a core issue of whether each individual in the organisation feels they have value. If they feel valueless no amount of adding value, prestige or status will change that and the subsequent strategies of focus, innovation and creativity will be flawed beneath the waterline.
In this sense Tim is right, instead of adding layers of meta theory on top of existing strategic process, we need to go back to the core issues and help people change themselves at a fundamental level. Our organisations have become so fragmented and hierarchical that employees are wondering where the centre is, they're struggling to get any unity and without unity you can't get to flow and creativity.
Behaviours are driven by values. Employees who feel valueless become saboteurs of any system - seeking value outside themselves and when this is not immediately forthcoming, competing against their colleagues to increase their status. Again it is impossible to achieve unity with this in place.
I totally agree with Mike's point that what people need to become aware of lies below their conscious mind and it does require courage to go there. However with help, with the right tools and with a supportive framework, the changes that can be effected at this level are huge, real and much more powerful and enduring than any cognitive behaviour change - which cannot survive the first cannonball.
Better still would be to work with a group of employees and leaders and process their collective subconscious as a group. The beauty of this work is that it follows the group process and therefore has no fixed agenda or strategy to unpick. It is similar to the Chinese observation of the tao, watching the patterns of events and interpreting the process as it unfolds.
If we observe process then leaders and employees can become true co-creators, as the underlying dynamics of any situation will be something they all share on some level. In this way, with group accountability and connection, whatever conscious issue in the group is being looked at will shine a light on the same issue in the subconscious of the rest of the group. Hidden agendas are brought to light and everyone can integrate their fears and judgements around the issue.
It's radical to work as a group but in a way less daunting as no-one is scapegoated. It's also a very bonding experience that would establish unity. In this way you can get past the strong ego focus of the leadership and ensure that decisions meet the needs of the whole group.
To be a great leader is to live in the heart of the paradox. But to be a great employee takes the same level of accountability. To have needs but not use the system to indulge those needs. To have fear and doubt but not act out from this fear with command and control behaviours (leaders) or manipulation (employees).
When we have the vision of a company that capitalises on the untapped resources within everyone a brave new world will indeed be born!”


I subscribe to Dave Gurteen’s newsletter on Knowledge Management - - and he offers the facility for having quotes delivered via e-mail at regular intervals. Here is one of the quotes

"The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend."

*** Pete Cohen ***

I was watching a program about Nigel Kennedy the other day and he was asked if he had any advice for others and he replied “Its not for me to tell others what they should do, its not for me to enter their space. Everybody’s space is their own and its up to them to fill it for themselves.”


Back to leadership again, a new article has been added to the 'Interesting Articles' section of the WWDN website:

Built to Last - The Tomorrow's Company Lecture by Prof. Jerry Porras
In 1990, Prof. Jerry Porras set himself the task of finding out what makes a visionary company, one that performs outstandingly over time. He wanted to know if there was something that these companies did in the very beginning, when they were just starting out, that led to their long-term success. His findings - on leadership and organisational values and purpose - have profound implications for the organisation of human societies.

Story Telling

David Snowden has released two interactive masterclasses on CD-ROM. The first, ‘Using narrative in organisational change', examines how narrative and storytelling can be used as a means to share knowledge in an articulate and understandable manner, outlining the value of these disciplines in a modern business setting.

In 'Emergent knowledge management', the second of the CD-ROMs, Dave positions the latest thinking on the evolution of knowledge management, describing ecological rather than mechanistic approaches and offering practical guidance on how to diagnose problems, formulate strategy and select projects to undertake.

For more information and a 10 minute demo of the video classes visit

New Members

Jim Winn - - and Jim Smith - - have recently contacted me and both are interested in complexity in education. So if any of you have any thing which might help them could you contact them, and could you copy me in as it is an interest of mine too.

Paperless 360º Appraisal Process

I have recently contributed a chapter to a book being written by David Kernick about complexity with a health service perspective. My chapter was a case study of Humberside TEC to illustrate complexity in practice. Below is a slightly adjusted excerpt about paperless 360º appraisal.

Most organisations, whatever the type of appraisal, have a tick box rating system which is often only completed by managers. This short paper describes a paperless 360º appraisal process which is owned by the person being appraised.

First, responsibility for appraisal is given to the individual, they decide when, where, how and who should be involved. The basic model is that a group of up to about of ten people should be invited to a meeting, representing people the appraisee accounts to, people who account to them, customers, and suppliers. All of these can be internal or external people as appropriate. In the meeting room there should be a sheet of flip chart paper on each wall, one headed “stop”, and the others “start”, “continue” and “change”.

All the appraisers are given a different colour marker pen and put their thoughts on each of the sheets of newsprint. Then, under the guidance of a facilitator they discuss what is on each of the sheets of flip chart paper to gain greater clarity. Following this exercise the appraisee returns to the room, reads what is on the sheets and questions the appraisers about what they have put and why.

In facilitating this kind of appraisal we have found that people are more open and honest in this form of feedback, and because the feedback is coming from a number of directions it is more balanced and acceptable to the appraisee. But most importantly, we found that the appraisers are getting just as much from the process because what is actually being appraised is the relationships between all the people present in the room. We have also found that as confidence grows in the process the variations on the above basic model also grow so that the person being appraised gets the feedback that is most useful to them.


Following on from my piece in the last newsletter about Ralph Stacey’s contribution at the Complexity society Conference, Marilyn Herasymowych e-mailed the following to me.

“I do have a comment on your comment of "Ralph Stacey saying that human systems are not complex adaptive systems, but that they are a useful metaphor when considering our human systems." Is Stacy a complexity theorist? I think he may have his metaphors mixed. Without question Chaos Theory does not apply directly to human systems, although human systems interact and are affected by chaotic systems. However, by definition by complexity theorist, all living things are complex adaptive systems, and exist within complex adaptive systems interacting with chaotic systems. Defining human systems as complex adaptive systems is not at issue with scientists, whereas using chaos theory concepts are (e.g., strange attractors).

Complexity science is very useful at understanding human systems. In my opinion, science is but a doorway into thinking about human systems in a different way. It seems that the prevailing meme of our time is science, and that we need to use science to understand ourselves. I believe that science helps us to remain open long enough so that we can gain access to our internal wisdom that already resides within all of us. It is as if we have spent the last 500 years learning how not to learn, and now we need a way back to our innate knowledge. To me science is that doorway, for good or for bad. That's why, I believe, it seems so important to get the science
right. We seem to spend a lot of time talking about whether or not we have the science right, when we need to be focusing on what it can do to help us to return to what we already know.

For example, in our work in systems thinking, we have successfully showed that people are naturally systems thinkers, whereas the researchers at MIT have concluded that humans must be taught systems thinking (i.e., humans are not naturally systems thinkers). To open people's minds to systems thinking, we have used complexity theory principles. As a result, within a short period of time (1-3 hours), people have been able to gain access to their systems thinking capability, and to use this capability to select actions that are "leverage points" and create "emergent properties".”

About Mistakes and Failures

I recently read an article on education which made the point that we are obsessed with getting the right answer and therefore ignore the learning present in “wrong answers”. For example when asked what makes the wind one answer was “ The wind is made by leaves flapping”, and what a rich vein that would be to tap.

And Finally…

May we all learn from our mistakes and failures, and from the unexpected that confronts us every day.

Best wishes