Strategic Doing
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Strategic Doing

Ten Skills for Agile Leadership

Edward Morrison, Scott Hutcheson, Elizabeth Nilsen, Janyce Fadden, Nancy Franklin

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eBook - ePub

Strategic Doing

Ten Skills for Agile Leadership

Edward Morrison, Scott Hutcheson, Elizabeth Nilsen, Janyce Fadden, Nancy Franklin

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About This Book

Ten skills for agile leadership

Complex challenges are all around us—they impact our companies, our communities, and our planet. This complexity and the emergence of networks is changing the practice of strategic management. Today's leaders need to understand how to design and guide complex collaborations to accelerate innovation and change—collaborations that cross boundaries both inside and outside organizations.

Strategic Doing introduces you to the new disciplines of agile strategy and collaborative leadership. You'll learn how to design and guide complex collaborations by following a discipline of simple rules that you won't find anywhere else.

• Unleash the power of true collaboration

• Learn and master the 10 skills of agile leadership

• Apply individual skills to targeted situations

• Introduces a new discipline of leadership strategy

Filled with compelling case studies, Strategic Doing outlines a new discipline of leadership strategy specifically designed for open, loosely-connected networks.

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Chapter 1


Let's start with a thought experiment. Assume you and your partner are parents of two teenage children, one boy and one girl. You have two weeks in the summer to take a vacation. How do you plan it? There are two ways you could make the decision. Under Option A, you and your partner simply decide that you're going to the Grand Canyon for two weeks and that your children have no say in the matter. You've made your decision by carefully analyzing the facts about travel times and budgets. All that's left is to declare your intention and go.
Option B might be to convene a discussion with your family to explore options. Your son might want to go to Charlottesville, Virginia and Washington, DC because he's interested in learning more about Thomas Jefferson. Your daughter, on the other hand, has an interest in genealogy, and she wants to go to Cincinnati to visit her grandmother and learn more about the origins of your family. Your partner suggests a trip to Seattle, because none of you have ever gone to the Pacific Northwest. You would prefer a trip to Boston and Maine, where you could, among other things, introduce the family to the joys of eating a lobster. With all these options, how do you decide? Chances are, you'd convene a family conversation, or maybe several, to see if you could come up with a plan that is at least acceptable to everyone.
Nobel Prize winner Herbert Simon called this second approach satisficing, a combination of the verbs “to satisfy” and “to suffice.” It means searching through available options and figuring out a solution that meets a minimum threshold of acceptability, a vacation that is “good enough” to satisfy everyone. Contrast this approach to Option A, which is more of a command‐and‐control decision with one decision maker, presumably in possession of all the relevant facts, making a rational decision.
Option B requires deeper conversations, and an embrace of ambiguity – and that's the point. Planning a family vacation is a complex project with no single, simple, rational answer. Each of us has a different idea of the ideal vacation. We have many options of what we could do. There is no way to put all of these factors into some equation and come up with an optimal answer. Instead, we learn to muddle through to a satisfactory solution.
As our example of a family vacation shows, most of us have some experience working with complex problems. We have some direct experience with both satisficing and muddling through. They are useful concepts when relatively few people are involved. But what happens when dozens or hundreds of people are involved? That's real complexity, and most of us don't have an approach to cope with it.
In essence, that's the problem we faced in Oklahoma City in the early 1990s: How do we make decisions about priorities with a lot of people involved if nobody can tell anyone else what to do? How do we make sensible choices? If no one person (such as the mayor) or no one organization (such as the Chamber of Commerce) can pull Oklahoma City out of its economic tailspin, what should we do?
Even today, companies, organizations, and communities facing complex challenges still try to opt for Option A. They try to find a rational answer by analyzing data – lots of data. Once an ostensibly rational answer is determined by a small group (to be fair, they've usually also included some way for a larger number of people to communicate their own preferences), they announce it and expect everyone else to follow. This is part of the traditional approach to strategic planning. But as many of those who have sat on a strategic planning committee will attest, this approach is increasingly unworkable (we'll explain why later in this chapter).
Companies face complexity every day. How do they make their organizations more agile? Rapid changes in consumer demand, technologies, regulations, and competition put a premium on the ability to respond and adapt quickly. Yet, most companies are caught in rigidity. Most are structured around functions, like marketing and finance; yet, innovation – the life force of any business – is not housed within any of these functions. Job descriptions may provide clarity to employees, but they also draw a fence around employee contributions to new ideas. Quality systems provide stability to existing products, but they do not encourage the experimental mindsets needed to discover “what's next.” Fear and risk aversion too often stifle new thinking. Instead of embracing new ideas, many companies have an immune system that is triggered to kill them. As one top manager in a Fortune 100 company asked us, “How do I make 10,000 employees more innovative?” A complex challenge, indeed.
The challenges faced by nonprofit organizations are no less daunting. As income disparities increase, the demands for social services accelerate, but resources are not keeping up. What's the result? Nonprofit managers are faced with increased competition for funding, while funders (trying to find a coherent way to allocate resources) demand ever more in the way of metrics and accountability. Without some way to manage this complexity, these factors set the stage for personal and professional burnout. University administrators are in a similar bind. The role of the university in the knowledge economy is rapidly shifting as declining public funding, new learning technologies, and continuously shifting market demands place different pressures on higher education institutions.
Closer to home, think of some of the complexities that our communities face. Our friends in Flint confront the collapse of both public safety (in the form of a severely weakened police department) and public health (the collapse of the city's water system). Across the United States, drug addiction, principally opioids, is killing about 65,000 Americans a year (about 180 people a day), with no community untouched. The epidemic of gun violence kills about half the number of people as drug overdoses, but the numbers are still staggering: about 38,000 Americans die from gun‐related injury each year (one third from homicides, two thirds from suicides).
Now step back and think as a global citizen. Climate change is accelerating. Global population is due to increase to 9.8 billion people by 2040. Energy demand will increase more than 50% by 2040. We need a 60% increase in food production by 2050, if global population grows as is currently forecast. We must rapidly answer some compelling questions:
  • How can we assure people access to clean water without conflicts?
  • How can our energy and food demands be met?
  • How do we reduce the threats of terrorism and the use of weapons of mass destruction?
  • How can we address climate change?
All of these challenges are daunting in large part because they are embedded in complex adaptive systems. A complex system is a system in which many independent components (or “agents”) interact with one another. As they do, they learn or adapt in response to their interactions. Examples of complex systems range from individual cells to cities, ecosystems, our climate and, indeed, our universe. These systems are difficult to model, because they have so many different agents creating a mind‐boggling array of interactions. Although scientists have been studying complex systems for a long time, it was not until the establishment of the Santa Fe Institute in 1984 that the study of complex systems became firmly established as an independent field of research. The Institute's scholars provided the intellectual frameworks for practitioners to explore complex collaboration in a practical way.
The fact is that we are becoming overwhelmed by challenges that reside in these kinds of complex systems, but many of us are approaching the challenges with disciplines and mind‐sets developed decades ago. Is it any wonder that our trust and confidence in institutions generally – business, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, higher education, and faith‐based organizations – has eroded?
Some years ago, Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber wrote a paper describing the concept of “wicked problems.” These are problems that are difficult or impossible to solve because our information is incomplete or contradictory. What's more, conditions are continuously changing. Because of the interdependencies within the complex systems that give rise to wicked problems, an effort to solve one problem can give rise to others. We can quickly create “unintended consequences.” There is no simple solution to a wicked problem. Proposed solutions are neither wholly right nor completely wrong, and every wicked problem is unique.
The point is simply this: in our families, organizations, and communities we are increasingly confronted with these complex, “wicked” problems. Yet we have not advanced our thinking or, until now, developed new protocols or approaches to addressing these complex problems. We know that no single organization or individual can solve a complex problem. Indeed, every solution we develop is temporary – when conditions inevitably change, we will have to adjust.


The challenges we describe earlier are critical, but if we don't understand the fundamental shifting dynamic in our world, we will miss the key to addressing them. There is something else at work that is easily overlooked, or at least is so much a part of our current reality that we have ceased to notice it.
It wasn't that long ago that nearly everyone in the world lived their lives in small groups of extended families – many on farms, others in what today we would call “small businesses.” There was a predictable rhythm to life, often structured around the seasons, and each family would – for the most part – make their own decisions about which activities needed to be done an...

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