January 4, 2011
Posted in Business, Technology tagged adaptability, collaboration, complexity, conflict, historical, improvement, leadership, long view, management performance, opportunity, perspective, priority, social, structural, transformation at 3:16 pm by lindaslongview
The management of technical complexity and its evolution is probably my favorite subject. I am simply fascinated by the challenges created by ever more complex technologies and the processes required to see them to fruition.
I read the book War Made New (Boot) a few years ago. It was a fascinating read, with the most striking element being the evolution of tactics and strategies as new technologies emerged over 500 years of military history. Boot captures the evolution of weaponry and concomitant strategies vividly because he covers 500 years of the proverbial arms race in time-lapse drama – it’s easy to see the big changes and the impacts of those changes in his case studies over such a long view.
I have wanted a similar treatise of commercial technology discussing the many innovations needed to manage technical complexity since the emergence of industrialization. I have not found it yet…
Recently I read three separate books (in succession) that each provide pieces that help create a time-lapse perspective of commercial technology that includes social, structural, and historical contexts. Although there is significant overlap in the ideas of the three authors, oversimplifying the content of each book allows me to divide them into the three domains:
- Social – The Responsibility Virus (Martin)
- Structural – What Technology Wants (Kelly)
- Historical – Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility (Brand)
Defining the trajectory of progress is very important to me because as a freelance participant (consultant) in the technology sector, I must continually update and upgrade my strategies for managing and participating in technology development and commercialization. I must live at the edge…
From this trio of books, I distilled the following long-view insights:
- We must develop our ability to collaborate to handle the increasing complexity of our science, products, and operational processes. This is probably the single hardest task, because individually we struggle to maintain the illusions of “victory,” “control,” and “dignity,” which often get in the way of collective engagement. From Roger Martin: “Erosion in [productively sharing responsibility] skills is hugely threatening in a world of large, complex networked organizations and coalitions and alliances in which joint choice-making and effective collaboration is a necessity.”
- We must encourage adaptability and options development in worker skills (ourselves, our colleagues, and subordinates) to effectively survive extraordinary futures. We must really harness the instincts and knowledge of the different members of our teams. We must encourage everyone to take the wide-view and to over-communicate perspectives. From Kevin Kelly: “We have lots of choices. But those choices are no longer simple, nor obvious. As Technology increases in complexity, the technium demands more complex responses. For instance, the number of technologies to choose from so far exceeds our capacity to use them all that these days we define ourselves more by the technologies that we don’t use than by those we do.”
- We must understand, prioritize, and manage inherent conflicting loyalties that arise from the variable time scales (short-, mid-, and long-views) that confer operational system stability. Because we will constantly face short-term vs. long-term conflicts, we must have strategies to prioritize our actions. From Stewart Brand: “The combination of fast and slow components makes the system resilient.”
Are you actively developing collaboration, encouraging adaptability, and prioritizing conflicting loyalties?