Complexity and the Nexus of Leadership

I just had the opportunity to read Complexity and the Nexus of Leadership, a new book that seeks to apply learnings from complexity theory to the challenge of creating “ecologies of innovation.”  While the book doesn’t have the most elegant title or the most elegant writing style, it is a good introduction to many interesting ideas and concepts for leadership and management.  Many books that seek to popularize complexity theory tend to be heavy on theory.  This study has some theory, but is also chock full of good real-life examples (mainly from the corporate world).   The authors call for “generative leadership,” an approach that encourages a diversity of ideas over time, and that focuses on building an adaptive and ever-evolving organization or community that never lets standard operating procedures take over.  There are lots of useful tips for embracing this approach, and most of these concepts can and should be considered in any effort to promote new approaches in community and economic development.  In fact, many of the concepts have similarities to classic community organizing ideas from Saul Alinsky and others. 

For me, a couple of key ideas include the concept of “increasing the frequency of experiments,” i.e., creating regular opportunities for people within an organization or community to test new ideas and approaches.  The authors also offer useful guidance on how to “increase and amplify differences in the ecology,” i.e. finding ways to bring new ideas and players into decision makeing processes on a regular basis. 

The concept of generative leadership is well captured in a quote that the authors cite from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu:

Learn from the people

Plan with the people

Begin with what they have

Build on what they know.

Of the best leaders

When their task is accomplished

The people all remark

“We have done it ourselves.”

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