Edgeware - Principles


Uncover and work with paradox and tension.

Do not shy away from them as if they were unnatural

Make it or let it

Unleashing people A complexity tool box

Morgan: Images
Zimmerman: Fractal

Wicked Questions

Because the behavior of a CAS emerges from the interaction among agents, and because of nonlinear effects, “weird” stuff seems to happen. Of course, it is only weird because we do not yet have a way to understand it.

alice in creativeland

In a CAS, creativity and innovation have the best chance to emerge precisely at the point of greatest tension and apparent irreconcilable differences. Rather than smoothing over these differences – the typical leadership intuition from the machine and military metaphors – we should focus on them and seek a new way forward.

"The chaos manager must recognize these ‘forks in the road’ and create a context supporting the new line of development by finding interventions that transcend the paradoxes or make them irrelevant … The task hinges on finding new understandings or new actions that can reframe the paradox in a way that unleashes system energies in favor of the new line of development."

An organization in which tension and stresses are quickly smoothed over or even denied is one that isn’t learning or adapting very efficiently. Consider an organization embroiled in internal conflict over some kind of change, in which one group wants radical change and the other is holding steadfastly to the status quo. There may be a temptation for leaders to compromise, try to deliver to both groups, or prematurely stand by one position while discounting the other. How might you work with paradox and tension in this case? The approach one leader took was to mix the two warring factions (the “radical change” people and the “status quo” people) into a single group and give them the task of finding a “radical way to hold on to the status quo.” This is a paradox; it makes no sense according to the prevailing mental models.

However, working on it placed the group at the edge of chaos and increased the likelihood that creative approaches would emerge. Here are some other paradoxical questions to consider.  Can you think of others that are relevant to your context?

  • How can we give direction without giving directives?
  • How can we lead by serving?
  • How can we maintain authority without having control?
  • How can we set direction when we don’t know the future?
  • How can we oppose change by accepting it? How can we accept change by opposing it?
  • How can a large organization be small? How can a small one be large?
  • How can we be both a system and many independent parts?

Another way to uncover paradox is to ask “wicked questions.” These are questions that have no obvious answers, but expose our assumptions. For example, in an organization that was trying to build a more-enabled environment, one leader asked, “Are we really ready to put responsibility for the work on the shoulders of the people who do the work?” Perhaps you can sense the discomfort in such a question. But challenging the sacred cows is an activity that can put you at the edge of chaos, and begin to reveal the hidden assumptions.

"Clearly leadership has to do with the sustaining of creative tension in organizations. Creative tension is derived through strategic imbalance, which occurs when operating at the limits of organizational consensus or the boundaries of the organization. Innovation takes place on the edges of the organization where the potential for far-from-equilibrium conditions is optimal."

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All Components of Edgeware Principles Copyright 2000, Curt
Lindberg, Complexity Management, VHA Inc. Permission to copy for educational
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