Thoughts & Insights
Best Fitted to Cope with Complexity
Held in Vienna in November 2013, the Global Peter Drucker Forum on “Managing Complexity” was the third stopover of the OUBEY Global Encounter Tour. In the run-up to the Forum an article from the MINDKISS project with the title “What we need are inquiring free-ranging minds” appeared in the Drucker Society’s blog and received a highly positive resonance. Professor Peter Kruse, the much cited friend and partner of the MINDKISS Project sadly died this year. What he has to say, indeed the whole article, is still as fresh and relevant today as ever. This is why we are now, on popular demand, finally publishing it complete and unabridged on the OUBEY Blog.
“What we need today are not tunnel vision thinkers but inquiring free-ranging minds because such minds are best fitted to cope with complexity”. This was one of the key points made by Prof. Peter Kruse in his address at the opening of the Berlin exhibition of the OUBEY Global Encounter Tour in March 2013.
Peter Kruse is well known in Germany for his research into how self-organizing systems and intelligent networks perform and function, and for his perceptive cultural analysis – as well as for his at times provoking and highly controversial ideas. From his own fresh and unfamiliar vantage point, he cast new light on OUBEY and the idiosyncratic maturation process that gave birth to his art, a process, as he underlined, that was shaped and molded by the instincts and capabilities of an inquiring free-ranging mind.
OUBEYs art is now presented at this year’s Drucker Forum in an exceptional setting that at the same time offers a special kind of resonance space. People from all over the world concerned with the problems of complexity management are gathering in Vienna for two days of sophisticated debate and exchange on the level of written and spoken communication. They will be discussing new approaches, models and concepts in an effort to identify what can be done to enable managers to deal more successfully and more efficiently with the challenges of increasing complexity and dynamics. In the midst of these encounters and exchanges a number of OUBEYs paintings will make their own silent contribution, in a universal language that has no need of words, to an understanding of what complexity is and how it affects us. Inviting us all to free-ranging inquiry across set frontiers and boundaries.
At first sight it might seem that there is no obvious connection neither between art and management in general nor between management and OUBEYs art in particular. In this context the decisive link is furnished by the theme of complexity which was of passionate interest to OUBEY and a theme which he explored throughout his lifetime, and certainly not in his art alone, ever since he first laid hands on Ilya Prigogine’s Order out of Chaos: Man’s new dialogue with nature in 1981. An intellectual inquiry into complexity, holistic systems and networking that opened up entirely new perspectives in its time.
Yet to recognize what truly connects OUBEY and his art on the one hand with the basic issues underpinning leadership and management on the other, in the context of increasing complexity, we have to take up a special vantage point, as Prof. Kruse did in his opening address.
However, the key competencies listed by Peter Kruse that distinguish the inquiring free-ranging mind are seldom to be encountered in the day to day exercise of leadership and management or in any of the standard reference works. They include the ability to bear complexity and tolerate instability, to accept interference, to be an attentive observer and listener and to recognize patterns – because when you possess such skills you can get very close to the system, you can familiarize yourself with its workings and gain a better overall understanding, you can learn to make use of its energies, work constructively with its inherent forces and shape them, and in so doing you can (and indeed must) leave behind some of the established instruments of management and leadership. Inquiring free-ranging minds have a passion for reflection; they are ready to mobilize the collective intelligence of an organization and leverage it to find solutions – in other words they activate latent potential by an intelligent handling of self-organization. Leadership and management as the smart interplay between hierarchy and network creativity.
Complexity opens up fields of play which, even though they cannot be really controlled, can be shaped in a proactive and purposeful manner when the whole cast of actors share a common understanding of situations not as computable finite “being” but as moments in a process of “becoming” in which countless numbers of interrelated factors each exert their influence and play their part. In an open process of becoming it is almost impossible to predict what will happen next. Linear thinking and mechanistic ideas of the relationship between cause and effect, objective and result are unhelpful here. The sudden intrusion of unexpected, unpredicted events may be an unwelcome disturbance – but it is precisely such disturbances that can prove beneficial in the end.
Complexity brings with it chances and possibilities for creating new forms of order that we can and should recognize and use. The human brain which can manage a system as awesomely complex as the human organism possesses an incredible ability to detect and recognize the underlying patterns in complex relationships. As Peter Kruse says, “Whenever you have the chance, tolerate complexity! Our brain has a fantastic ability to detect patterns in complexity and turn it into coherent order”. Whether such attempts will succeed or not, however, depends on one key precondition: “You can never establish new order in systems if you block out everything that disturbs, unsettles and irritates you.” If you block out what you cannot easily assimilate and continue to follow well trodden paths, the inquiring part of your brain will not be sufficiently stimulated to seek out and detect a new form of order, and unimagined possibilities will remain undiscovered.
It is interesting to note, by the way, that it is not the brain´s cerebral cortex responsible for conscious rational analysis that comes to into play here but the brain´s limbic system which is responsible for our unconscious life. Pattern recognition is an intuitive process. This is perhaps something which distinguishes many artists from most managers because: They work with and trust equally both the conscious and unconscious parts of the human brain. Do managers ever learn to work with and trust the intuitive capabilities of their brains?
Meteorology is a method which can indeed make astonishingly accurate forecasts, even accurate long-term forecasts, about something as complex as the weather situation. Yet whether there will ever be something like a “meteorology” for managers still remains to be seen. Even so, back in the 80s of the last century researchers into complexity at the Santa Fe Institute had already turned their attention to the patterns and interweaving of processes on the business and financial markets, and the results they came up with are fascinating. And the consequences that lie in wait when managers cannot make decisions that take account of all the mechanisms at work in a complex field of play have been compellingly shown by Dietrich Dörner in his masterly book The Logic of Failure, published in 1989. The principal question we need to ask today is why such knowledge and insights have not filtered down to find widespread practical application in the day to day business of management.
It might seem obvious to say that it’s much easier for an artist to find solutions for dealing with complexity and much more difficult for a manager to do the same. Yet, artists embark on the free creative process in the sense of an inquiring exploration across the boundaries of different worlds just as any other person would begin it – by the power of their own decision, consequently and continuously strengthening their personal autonomy and their ability to expand their scope.
The author is founder and director of the international OUBEY MINDKISS Project and as such is also responsible for the Global Encounter Tour and the stopover exhibition at the Drucker Forum 2013 in Vienna.
She is founder and executive managing partner of new&able Management- und Organisationsberatung and co-founder of EnBWAkademie GmbH of which she was the CEO for 12 years.
DagmarWoyde-Koehler is a member of the New Club of Paris, the Wertekommission – Initiative for Value-oriented Leadership and Corporate Culture, and Ambassador of the European Leonardo Award Council.