People love easy answers. Promise a silver bullet. Sell a slogan. Give them a simple, short, step-by-step guide to success and they love it. However, as in politics, in the complex systems of modern business simple answers are easy to sell, but rarely effective. Selling the hard work of systemic change takes an entirely new conversation and different skills.
Isn’t Easier than This?
This is all sounding complex. Make it easier for me. What can I buy to make this change? What initiative should I run? Where do I start? What decision should I make? What have you done for other clients that solves our problems. Show me someone else who has solved this. What benefits can I expect? How can I be sure we won’t fail?
Start talking about the challenges of the future of work and people quickly ask you to simplify the solution. There are lots of easy answers out there. People are in the business of releasing the tension with transactional solutions: panaceas, bandaids, painkillers, distractions and tools. This post will have much less traffic than one entitled ‘Five Simple Steps to the Future of Work’ or the “One Thing You Can Do Now to Succeed in the Future of Work’, even though it addresses ideas inherent in both of those titles.
We can’t simplify the problem because both the problem and the path forward and the outcomes are unclear in a complex system change. Systemic change is not about making one move. You can’t guarantee what weather pattern you get from the motion of single butterfly in the Amazon because no two butterflies are in the exact same circumstances and because other factors in the system are unpredictable. There is no one way forward because no two people are identical. Whatever our future model it needs to leverage, not supress, human diversity. Culture, collective human behaviour, competitive market dynamics, networked information flows, the evolution of disruptive technologies and many other issues in the future of our organisations are just as systemically complex as weather.
The Real Solution is Work
We can’t make it easy because the hard part is human work. Sadly for the sloganeers and their eager followers, the real solution is work. That work begins with challenging new conversations to define shared purposes, shared norms and to influence others to new behaviours. There is no one simple step that will guarantee human behavioural change. Even if you light a fire under people, some people still won’t jump.
The work continues to shape new ways of working that reflect real human diversity and leverage real human potential. The work involves balancing the changing circumstances, concerns and purposes of individuals, teams and organisations. The work involves the hard conversations to create accountability, to build capability and to lift the performance and value of new ways of working. The work includes the success, failure and learning of many experiments to find a new workable path forward together.
The Skills of Real Change
Real change comes from the hard work of creating connection around shared purpose, sense-making, influence conversations, practice and experimentation. If we need a place to start, let’s start to do the work to build the capabilities in individuals teams and organisations to focus on these key elements. We don’t need a hierarchical leader making the big one brave call to move our organisations forward into the future. We need swarms of individuals making a series of small moves, loosely joined and connected by shared purpose and vibrant conversations. The more we do, the more we learn individually and collectively.
Faith in one easy answer is just wasting the time when we could be working on real change.
PS Here’s the pretty picture of the individual and collective ‘easy answers’ that I prepared earlier: