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Handling Complexity in Decision-Making: Avoiding The Bike Rack Effect in Meetings

Handling Complexity in Decision-Making:  Avoiding The Bike Rack Effect in Meetings | Change Leadership Watch |

Why would a $100M power plant zoning approval take 3 minutes and a request to build a $10,000 bike rack for city sidewalks take hours?

It's easy to be swept up in the trivial and fun stuff, starving the big issues for the time and consideration they merit.  Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a British historian and operations researcher, penned this extreme example of decision-making in meetings in his book Parkinson's Law. Paraphrasing the Wikipedia entry, the powerplant is so expensive, the sums of money are hard to frame.


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Deb Nystrom, REVELN's insight:

This is a post useful for anyone connected to public sector meetings, or any meeting with complex topics.  I've posted this in change leadership watch for the reasons of asking you, the reader the question, have you ever helped a decision making body avoid the The Abilene Paradox, a classic management film about avoiding mismanaged agreement?

This post also illustrates the power of Parkinson's Law where board members lazily skip over the seemingly impenetrable problem in the meeting, deferring to the team managing the project. There will be implications for years of this city council meeting's decisions, and yet it is decided in three minutes.  It's astounding, assuming we haven't been excluded from a long list of previous meeting discussions.   ~ D

Ivon Prefontaine, PhD's curator insight, March 24, 2014 11:58 PM

Most humans have no comprehension of $100 million, but understand $10, 000.

Tom Russell's curator insight, March 27, 2014 7:00 AM

I'm sure we can all identify with this scenario. It reminds me of a school football game when everybody is running after the ball regardless of their agreed position on the pitch. Clearly where there is passion there is engagement, so focussing on, and agreeing, clear outcomes is a key starting point if one is going to avoid everyone being kicked in the shins.

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Leadership Challenges: Embrace paradoxes to move forward

Leadership Challenges: Embrace paradoxes to move forward | Change Leadership Watch |

"This provocative post highlights current business paradoxes challenging leaders:  change or remain stable, complexity versus simplicity, growth and sustainability and more."

After seeing evidence of our increasingly VUCA world, one that is growing in its Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous characteristics, this useful list of paradoxes resonates.  Does it resonate to your experience?




Leaders must find ways to deal with this complexity and embrace and manage it to achieve simplicity.





Paradox 1: growth versus sustainability

Growth as it is currently defined tends to result in an unquestioned and unchecked consumption of resources. Sustainability considerations are generally considered to put a major strain on growth ambitions.

The way forward is innovation, but another paradox present itself:


Paradox 2: innovating versus operating

Innovation is increasingly about service, process, business model and social innovation.

However, focusing on innovation does not mean ignoring operations. The trick is that what allows operations to thrive can seriously get in the way of innovation and vice versa.


Paradox 3:  change versus continuity

If you try to innovate too many things at once you will end up with chaos, if you do not change at all your organisation will decline. What is the right balance?


Paradox 4: collaboration versus competition

Business is inherently competitive yet today, collaboration is common, with most companies having collaborated with their suppliers and their customers. Leading companies are promoting collaboration through crowdsourcing or with competitors.


Paradox 5: complexity versus simplicity

Demands on leaders result in increasing levels of complexity, arising from the number of possible, unpredictable interactions between collaborate, compete; change, remain stable; innovation or operational excellence; growth or sustainability. Leaders must find ways to deal with this complexity and embrace and manage it to achieve simplicity.


Paradox 6: Heart versus mind

Decisions need to be made in the face of incomplete analysis, unpredictable outcomes and changing circumstances. The foundations for analysis and factual arguments differ from emotional and visionary engagement; people who excel at one are not necessarily particularly good at the other and yet both are needed.


Read the full article by Dr Bettina von Stamm here.

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