In complex work - it's all going to be about how people influence the environment. It is not going to be about mechanical milestones - after all if the work is complex, there are many unknowns. You think I am stupid? So give me your project plan for exiting Iraq. Give me your plan to make a difference in New Orleans. What was Churchill's plan in England in 1940? See what I mean now.
You can't start with a plan in a complex situation because you cannot know enough. You have to start with a deep engagement. A deep engagement rests only in the spirit of a person.
In complex work it's all about a committed person, or persons, influencing and interacting with the environment. They have an over-arching intention - to save England and somehow win the war - but at the outset how to do this is not clear. In Churchill's case, it would not be clear until 1942 but it was his ability to drive on and inspire that made the difference. It was the same with Roosevelt and the depression. It was the gearing up to serve the needs of war that really ended the depression in 1938-39 but he had been able to mobilize much of the nation and save them from utter despondency. There could not have been a plan although there was much action in 1933.
Both Churchill and Roosevelt were "called". Both had a sense of personal destiny and both were loathed by the establishment as being dangerous and somehow unsound. I recall as a boy meeting some key Republicans in the US who would spit at the name. They embody for me the essence of the "Called" person who comes to the aid of his community when events were so complex that no plan could be conceived. They bring hope and they bring energy when others confront despair and entropy.
This crisis of hope and energy is what faces most organizations today who are organized traditionally and who face competition from the new.
Their fatal leadership mistake is to perceive the crisis as being either simple or complicated and hence solvable by reductionist thinking or planning. The tendency is to collapse into "Busy work" that exhausts everyone and shows no progress. Then blame and fear take over. Is this what is happening at Yahoo today?
So what then does Getting to Maybe say about how to support change in this context?
"Support vision, people with a strong sense of calling and emergent possibilities.....perhaps funders should be looking to support people not projects. Don't expect clarity, which in these early stages of exploration is inappropriate. But do expect a strong and passionate sense of calling and an emphasis on changing the rules of interaction
Support intense interactions, networking and information exchange among those that have the potential to tip a system in a new direction
Social innovators don't look to government to make things happen....Social innovators worry about overcoming regulatory and policy barriers that support the status quo (Rob - such as health regulations in the food industry that force out small producers)..In many cases a solution adopted by government to solve some earlier problem becomes over time itself a problem...
It wasn't the great opportunities offered to write stilted proposals to capture government funding (Talking about motive) It was because they cared, and cared deeply about the homeless, child victims of abuse, community violence or some other problem - and they wanted to make a difference, Effective and innovative organizations keep alive that vision and passion, that sense of calling.
Evaluation, almost always scary, has become a major barrier to social innovation. Premature and skeptical demands for accountability can shut down social innovation just as they're starting to take off...Don't prematurely force the passion and the commitment of social innovators into the boxes of social goals and logic models. Rather, stimulate and capture the early articulation of the problem as a baseline for use later when more formal evaluation becomes appropriate and helpful.
There are no people that are not flawed. This includes both social innovators and most certainly those that would presume to advise them...There is no correlation between the "perfection" of the individual and the social innovation that results. In fact expecting social innovators to be perfect is another way of reinforcing the status quo.
And here is the good news from Complexity Science. Emergent systems thrive on interdependencies. Every person, contributing what he can, can make a difference, but no one can claim responsibility. Moreover, what may appear at a particular moment s a defect can, from a system's perspective, attract needed energy to support unexpected realignments and new synergy's.. features of Flow