Feel complexity, think ‘Tradeoffs’ and follow the flow


No more tradeoff by default, but purposefully (Credits: Open Web Vancouver 2009)

No more tradeoff by default, but purposefully (Credits: Open Web Vancouver 2009)

This is THE shift we all need to accomplish, if we believe we work on complex, highly interdependent agendas:

  • No more black and white, it’s all grey area…
  • No more blanket approach, it never worked anyway…
  • No more push vs. pull, it’s all customised to the very purpose required
  • No more information vs. knowledge, it’s all in the mix, one feeding the other
  • No more now vs. the future, we have to balance the two (early wins and long term gains)
  • No more all win throughout, it’s win-win-lose between here, there, now, then…
Tradeoffs to help us filter Failure (Credits: PlanetArt/FlickR)

Tradeoffs to help us filter Failure (Credits: PlanetArt/FlickR)

At the centre of complexity thinking, at the heart of wicked problems, we find tradeoffs. One thing leads to another but at the bottom of it is the fact that every activity we undertake has consequences in another area of the system. And these consequences of inter-dependencies are mostly difficult to spot, because we are not prepared to look in all directions.

 

Some more KM-related examples:

  • Your success here could be our failure there: Developing a good, strong team spirit takes time and can go to the detriment of the rest of the organisation – the eternal ‘silo problem’ that leads to the swing between matrix and unit-focused organisations. Something I experienced personally (and was documented) last few years in a water and land management project in the Nile Basin.
  • I hear the wings of the butterfly bring the tsunami: The many waves of KM fads (for one-stop-shop portals, for ‘lessons learnt’ databases, and for all kinds of other over-rated KM initiatives such as the DIKW pyramid) have generated enthusiasm well
    The minitel - a great idea whose tradeoff was a long blog for France's productivity

    The minitel – a great idea whose tradeoff was a long blog for France’s productivity

    beyond reason. What perhaps turned out to be a big hit in one case opened a whole sad trail of miserably poorly copied attempts that resulted in major failures.

  • Today’s innovation may be tomorrow’s problem: Even the launch of Minitel – a great (and prided) accomplishment of French telecom engineering in the 80’s – led France to suffer a long-lasting lag time to join the Internet bandwagon… Win today, lose tomorrow.
Bring in your diverse crowd and get at it! (Credits: Deviant Art)

Bring in your diverse crowd and get at it! (Credits: Deviant Art)

So what can we do about these tradeoffs?

First and foremost, just accept that they are there. We can’t solve wicked problems but we can apprehend them best we can. And here are some concrete options:

Keep calm, and assemble a diverse team around you. Much like for the community of practice debate, tradeoffs are one of the very reasons why bringing a diverse crowd together is the best way forward, so you cover as many angles of these possible tradeoffs.

Think in terms of trade offs across space, scale and time – who gains and loses what here? There? In our group and at its edges? Today? Tomorrow? Use approaches that take tradeoffs into account (see for instance Liberating StructuresWicked questions

Accordingly, we can also develop our negotiation skills – tradeoffs tomorrow start with trade-on’s today😉

And then of course we can keep wondering how to deal with tradeoffs best:

  • How open is our working culture to think in terms of tradeoffs in space, scale and time?
  • What are we doing to make sure that the exchange, learning and negotiation space is genuinely open to all the people that can help us understand tradeoffs?
  • How do we prioritize based on these tradeoffs and what are good examples to take decisions that minimize the problems?
  • What learning and sharing approaches, and what information or knowledge tools can we mobilise to understand and address tradeoffs best?

How do you or your teams deal with tradeoffs?

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