Category Archives: Complexity Space

Some Changes are Bigger Than Others

not-just-rsA colleague recently shared that his aerospace engineering and manufacturing facility had just   announced a major layoff at. We had worked there together in the past, so I was familiar with the facility and organizational ecosystems.

After the initial shock and disappointment (former colleagues had suffered major disruptions to their livelihoods) wore off, I realized I was not at all surprised. The seeds for this disruption were sown in the decades that preceded it.

Do any of these indicators resonate for you?

  • Senior “good old boy” leadership team that had remained largely intact for years
  • Business benefiting from significant barriers to entry for new competitors
  • “Cost plus” pricing model where process inefficiencies can actually be profitable
  • More profitable than other divisions in the corporation, so more likely to be left alone while corporate leadership dealt with more urgent business needs
  • Lots of talk about the need for continuous improvement but little real commitment by the leadership to implement it

In the Complexity Space™ Framework, we introduce the concept of “Ecosystem Dimensions.”  Dimensions are enduring, system-wide patterns of thought and behavior. I applied the four categories of Dimensions to my colleague’s organization:

History: The company has been in business for a long time, helping to pioneer major advances in the aerospace field. “This must be the right way to do it – after all, we invented it!”

Context: The business exists in the context of being a prime contractor to the defense industry. Highly regulated. Slow to change. Few competitors with significant barriers to entry. “Cost-plus” pricing.

Culture: The organization is comprised of rocket scientists (really!), engineers, and high-tech manufacturing personnel. “The smartest one, with the best pedigree wins” – whether or not their idea is actually the best solution for the problem at hand.

At the leadership team level, an additional dynamic is at play. Since the universe of organizations in this market niche is small, everyone knows everyone else, with many having worked with one another before. There is a strong network that results in a “one of us/not one of us” mindset if someone new is introduced to the leadership team.

Motivation: Many employees believe that, “We’re an essential part of keeping the USA and its allies safe and will always be needed.” Because of the barriers to entry, “We’re too big (important) to fail.” And for the highly tenured leaders, “Don’t rock the boat – let’s ride the status quo into (a very nice) retirement.”

Notice each of these makes perfect sense from the perspective of those in the organization. However, those same perspectives made it more difficult to see and deal with:

  • Cost-plus pricing being replaced by fixed cost pricing
  • An increasing intolerance for chronic quality problems by the customer
  • The emergence of competitors with the resources to fight through the barriers to entry
  • Increasing amounts of “group think” and intolerance for new thinking
  • Mergers and acquisitions shifting the balance of power at the corporate level

Using the “lens” of Ecosystem Dimensions, it is (unfortunately) easy to see how plummeting business results could result in major reductions in force. And to make it even worse – Larry saw the same set of organizational dynamics result in the closing of another aerospace facility he worked at 15 years ago!

We invite you to “step back” and view your own organization through the lens of these four Dimensions. Learn more about them by visiting our website at or by purchasing our book, Complexity Works! Influencing Patterns of Change in Teams and Organizations at


I Didn’t Realize There Was So Much Going On

We received a phone call from one of the principals in the financial services company we profiled in the case study of our book, “Complexity Works!” He had just finished reading the case and was shocked that our brief time together had resulted in 46 pages of evaluation and commentary.

“I had no idea that all of that was going on. I just thought we were having a meeting.”  While we were intentional in applying the lenses, distinctions, and tools of the Complexity SpaceTM Framework for the purpose of writing that part of the book, we could have applied the same level and depth of analysis to any team or organization.

Any and all human interactions always have complex dynamics at play. Whether a routine team meeting or complex corporate-wide transformation, each of the elements of the Complexity Space™ Framework is always present.

csfEach Ecosystem holds enduring, pervasive, and hard to influence Dimensions

Linkages connect various elements within systems, and connect internal and external entities

Interactions take place in the context of over-arching meta-patterns we call States

Those States are constantly being challenged by internal and/or external Disruptions

People take intentional action – in the CSF, they leverage Catalysts – to influence patterns and make change happen

Indicators provide continuous feedback on how the actions taken are impacting objectives


Throughout this always-present, constantly evolving process, everyone involved can’t help but have an intentional guide or approach, a Navigation Process, for getting from where they are now to where they want to be.

If your change efforts are not delivering the results and transformation you desire, we invite you to explore how the Complexity Space™ Framework in your unique organizational situation creates new possibilities for thought and action.

How Does Your Organization Engage with Risk?

We have been researching how and why an organization integrates behaviors and actions that introduce “Risk” to an organization. We feel this is critical because it has significant impact on growth and profitability.

Two LinkedIn posts offer very different perspectives. The first post is by Sir Martin Sorrell, Founder and CEO of WPP and is titled, Want Success? Think Long-Term and Take Risks. Sorrell suggests that long term thinking and smart risk taking in many large corporations has lost out to an emphasis on retaining earnings and a “bunker mentality” emphasizing maintaining the status quo and avoiding risky ventures.

The second post is by Rob Alston, CEO of Access, and is titled, Company Culture Improvements in 4 Not-Exactly-Easy Steps. His post described how Access intentionally opened their “Pandora’s Box” by conducting a company-wide survey on benefits and how that led to significant and beneficial changes for everyone.

In both cases responding to a disruption resulted in the ensuing behaviors and outcomes. In Sir Martin Sorrell’s post, the post-Lehman meltdown, the geopolitical turmoil created by Brexit, and increased global instability made C-suite decisions less about taking smart risks and seizing the future and more about surviving persistent uncertainty.
Access, on the other hand, sought feedback from the employee survey as an opportunity to proactively confront the issues that could hold the company back from leveraging the commitment of everyone as new opportunities emerged.

4-stepsAccess modeled a willingness to take a risk across the entire company as demonstrated in their four “steps” to improving corporate culture (shown in the graphic). Each step is a clear commitment to total engagement with each and every employee – from asking tough questions to receiving tough feedback through the resulting actions taken to make a change (or shift a pattern).


These different perspectives illustrate several different aspects of the Complexity Space™ Framework. The CSF focuses attention on the patterns of thought and action in organizations. It recognizes that in complex systems, how risk is managed has implications for both the short and long term health of the organization.

To the extent the “Four Questions” are actually implemented, our belief is that Access was trying to reinforce a core dimension in their “organizational ecosystem” — a clear commitment to total engagement with each and every employee. It seems to be working — the results for Access have been significant, an average growth rate of 44% per year over the past seven years.

In the Complexity Space Framework, our definition of Motivation is: What was the “attractor” that brought the organization into existence? What is the “glue” that holds it together today? Sir Sorrell’s post suggests that the motivation of maintaining the status quo results in an aversion to making the type of investments in innovations and change that prepare the organization for the future.

Mr. Alston highlights a different motivation, one built around the sticky note posted on the bulletin board in the graphic above: “Reject complacency and commit to continuous improvements!”

What motivates your organization to take a risk?