Handling Complexity

… a core topic in Leadership Skills and Atlas109
and study materials for Week 15 of Atlas206 Internship Reading

CompexityAndUncertaintyTopic description

This topic introduces students to the challenges of working in complex and uncertain environments, and some of the literature and concepts that allow public managers to achieve their goals in such environments.

Note: In addition to elaborating a core topic in Leadership Skills and Atlas109, the concepts below constitute study materials for Week 15 of Atlas206 Internship Reading. The Atlas quiz can be found at Quiz 15 – Negotiating and Handling Complexity. All 15 quizzes for Atlas206 Internship Reading are available at Concept Quizzes for Atlas206 Internship Reading.

Topic learning outcome

Appropriately utilize and interpret results of applying theories and concepts associated with achieving public management goals in a complex and uncertain environment.

Core concepts associated with this topic

Following the definitional concept of Complexity, the remaining concepts in this topic can be considered effective practices.

5 EFFECTIVE PRACTICES FOR HANDLING COMPLEXITY
Dealing with Ambiguity

Dealing with Uncertainty

Determining Sources of Complexity Practicing Integrative Thinking

Recognizing Obliquity

Recommended 2 hours of study for Week 15 of Atlas206 Internship Reading

Concept pages from Negotiating and Handling Complexity

Leigh Thompson, Videos – Negotiating Tactics 101, Kellog School of Management, Northwestern University, at http://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/news_articles/2014/08012014-negotiation-tactics-101.aspx, accessed 25 December 2015.

Bob Behn (2015), On why all public officials need to accept (if only grudgingly) that There is No Silver Bullet, Bob Behn’s Public Management Report, Vol. 13, No. 2, October 2015, at http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/thebehnreport/All%20Issues/BehnReport%202015-10%20Oct.pdf, accessed 31 December 2015.

Richard Straub (2015), Why Managers Haven’t Embraced Complexity, Harvard Business Review, 6 May 2015, at https://hbr.org/2013/05/why-managers-havent-embraced-c, accessed 31 December 2015.

John Kay, Obliquity: How Complex Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly, TEDx Talk, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BoAtYL3OWU, accessed 31 December 2015.

Complete Quiz 15 – Negotiating and Handling Complexity.

Recommended 10 hours of study for Atlas109 Leadership and Communication

Concept pages above and concept comprehension questions at bottom of this page.

Julian Birkinshaw and Suzanne Heywood (2010), Putting organizational complexity in its place, McKinsey & Company, May 2010, at http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/putting-organizational-complexity-in-its-place, accessed 27 February 2016.

Roger Martin (2013), Our Self-Inflicted Complexity, Harvard Business Review, 6 September 2013, at https://hbr.org/2013/09/our-self-inflicted-complexity, accessed 27 February 2016.

Roger Martin (2013), The Cure for Self-Inflicted Complexity, Harvard Business Review, 4 October 2013, at https://hbr.org/2013/10/the-cure-for-self-inflicted-complexity, accessed 27 February 2016.

Helga Nowotny (2013), The Embarrassment of Complexity, Harvard Business Review, 10 October 2013, at https://hbr.org/2013/10/the-embarrassment-of-complexity, accessed 27 February 2016.

Julian Birkinshaw (2013), Managing Complexity Is the Epic Battle Between Emergence and Entropy, Harvard Business Review, 11 November 2013, at https://hbr.org/2013/11/managing-complexity-is-the-epic-battle-between-emergence-and-entropy, accessed 27 February 2016.

Chris Mowles (2015), Against Common Sense: managing amid the paradoxes of everyday organisational life, Complexity and Management Centre, at https://complexityandmanagement.wordpress.com/2015/02/17/against-common-sense-managing-amid-the-paradoxes-of-everyday-organisational-life/#_edn9, accessed 27 February 2016.

Colin Shaw (2013), Dealing with Ambiguity: The New Business Imperative, Linked In Pulse, at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20130829124922-284615-dealing-with-ambiguity-the-new-business-imperative, accessed 27 February 2016.

Patti Johnson (2015), Avoiding Decision Paralysis in the Face of Uncertainty, Harvard Business Review, March 2015, at https://hbr.org/2015/03/avoiding-decision-paralysis-in-the-face-of-uncertainty, accessed 27 February 2016.

Lovegrove, N and Thomas (2013), M., Triple Strength Leadership, Harvard Business Review, September 2013, at https://hbr.org/2013/09/triple-strength-leadership/ar/1, accessed 1 January 2016.

Bob Behn (2015), On why all public officials need to accept (if only grudgingly) that There is No Silver Bullet, Bob Behn’s Public Management Report, Vol. 13, No. 2, October 2015, at http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/thebehnreport/All%20Issues/BehnReport%202015-10%20Oct.pdf, accessed 31 December 2015.

Richard Straub (2015), Why Managers Haven’t Embraced Complexity, Harvard Business Review, 6 May 2015, at https://hbr.org/2013/05/why-managers-havent-embraced-c, accessed 31 December 2015.

John Kay, Obliquity: How Complex Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly, TEDx Talk, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BoAtYL3OWU, accessed 31 December 2015.

John Kay on Obliquity, banking and money, podcast at Frisby’s Bulls And Bears, http://commoditywatch.podbean.com/2013/03/15/john-kay-on-obliquity-banking-and-money/, accessed 31 December2015.

Catherine,Needham and Catherine Mangan (2014), The 21st century public servant. Birmingham: Public Service Academy, University of Birmingham, at http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/college-social-sciences/public-service-academy/21-century-report-28-10-14.pdf, accessed 31 December 2015.

Recommended readings in MPP and MPA courses 

[TO COME]

Concept comprehension questions

CCQ206.15.06. Among the statements a-d pertaining to complexity choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Scholars have reached a reasonable consensus on a non-complex definition of complexity.

b. A complex system is greater than the sum of its parts; those parts are interdependent – elements interact with each other, share information and combine to produce systemic behaviour.

c. Some attempts to influence complex systems are dampened (negative feedback) while others are amplified (positive feedback) which means that small actions can have large effects and large actions can have small effects.

d. Complex systems are particularly sensitive to initial conditions that produce a long-term momentum or path dependence.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.15.07. Among the statements a-d pertaining to dealing with ambiguity choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Treating ambiguity as a steady state, and making decisions in this state is an appropriate position for managers.

b. Ambiguity can be reduced by clear decisions, by team goals, and by performance feedback.

c. Managing ambiguity typically requires working to reduce ambiguity and finding ways to become productive even when uncertainty is unavoidable.

d. One can never get rid of ambiguity but a good manager should try to reduce it.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.15.08. Among the statements a-d pertaining to dealing with uncertainty choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Any leader facing high levels of ambiguity and uncertainty needs to do get comfortable with the idea of not having all the answers and take steps to reduce uncertainty.

b. Making a decision even if it’s deemed imperfect later has the benefit of reducing uncertainty for the rest of your company or team.

c. Searching for more information will always reduce uncertainty and ambiguity.

d. Handling uncertainty – something that is doubtful or unknown – is a persistent challenge in management.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.15.09. Among the statements a-d pertaining to determining sources of complexity choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Imposed complexity comes from laws, industry regulations, and interventions by nongovernmental organizations and it is not typically manageable by organizations.

b. Inherent complexity is intrinsic to the line of business, and can only be jettisoned by exiting a portion of the line of business.

c. Designed complexity comes from choices about where the organization operates, what it provides, to whom, and how, and although organizations can remove it, it would likely mean simplifying valuable wrinkles in their business model.

d. Unnecessary complexity arises from growing misalignment between the needs of the organization and the processes supporting it and this can be easily managed once identified.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.15.10. Among the statements a-d pertaining to practicing integrative thinking choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Integrative thinking assumes that each decision will affect the others and suggests considering all aspects at once.

b. After having explored the range of possible criteria, the integrative thinker associates them as to whether they are causes or effects of one another.

c. The study of the mind, how we think, decide and interact are all key components of integrative thinking.

d. Integrative thinking simplifies each preceding step to rapidly reach a clear, unequivocal decision that can be evaluated based on defined initial criteria.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.15.11. Among the statements a-d pertaining to recognizing obliquity choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Obliquity recognizes that what happens happens because someone intended it.

b. Obliquity recognizes that systems are complex and depend on unpredictable reactions.

c. Obliquity recognizes that we learn about the nature of the objectives and the means of achieving them during a process of experiment and discovery.

d. Obliquity is the idea that complex goals are often best pursued indirectly.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 21 April 2017.

Image: Hyoin Min under Creative Commons and the United Nations Development Program at http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/labour-love, accessed on 3 January 2016.