Whether you care or not about the UK staying in or exiting the European Union (EU), the result of this week’s referendum will affect you. Why? Firstly, because we live in a highly interdependent and therefore complex world and there will be a ripple effect into the global economy. Secondly, because it touches on a very fundamental issue that every society must face: catering for the community while catering for the individual.
At Intelligent Management we always attempt to provide a systemic analysis and practical approach to problems. We urge for the breaking down of artificial barriers and silos and a more systemic approach to organizations as the appropriate model for our complex times. Societies today face similar issues. Uncertainty about the EU is rife in the UK at the moment and was tragically highlighted through the assassination of a young, promising Member of Parliament last week who was an active campaigner for staying in the E.U. Sadly, much of the uncertainty is due to ignorance and misinformation about the cost, benefits and implications of belonging to the EU. Statistically, the majority of supporters for remaining are younger, better educated and materially better off. The elderly, poor and disenfranchised are more likely to believe there is something to be gained in separation.
The Way We Were
Many supporters of leaving the EU do so because they are nostalgic for a time when their country was more “recognizable” and foreigners were not involved in decisions about their lives. It’s ironic. For people like myself from the UK whose parents lived through World War II the memory of Europe at war is real and peace in Europe is a privilege not to be taken for granted. Union among European countries is a way to guarantee that peace continues. Nobel prize winners and other people more expert than we are on the matter have been publishing a stream of articles to explain why Brexit is a disastrous idea both for security and economic reasons. We prefer to stick to a subject matter dear to our hearts: why we need to understand complexity so we can make the right decisions.
Not Understanding Complexity
We’ve talked about this before, but when people don’t understand complexity, they try and solve it by cutting things up into simpler pieces. (See our post “Don’t Cut Through Complexity: Understand it and Manage It (Sorry, KPMG)”)
Our reality today is highly complex and that is just the way it is. There is no going back to simpler times. What does complexity actually mean? “Complexus”, the Latin word for “complex”, roughly means “twisted together”. In other words, when several elements come together and interact, they form a “complex system”. These interactions are highly non-linear. That means they produce properties that may not belong to any of the individual components; in other words, the system created by these interactions can be very different from its components and cannot be understood in terms of those components (the whole is greater than the sum of its parts).
This is why you can’t just cut things up and simplify. Similarly, the UK is inextricably linked with the EU for a plurality of social, historical, cultural, political, economic and business reasons. It can’t just cut itself away, even if it is an island.
Independence versus Dependence?
It would be foolish to think that the referendum in the UK is just about the UK. Indeed, it concerns some very deep and legitimate needs that affect all societies. On the one hand, there is the need connected with with protecting identity that is distinct and unique. The other need is connected with bonding together with others. Both of these needs are fundamental aspects of being human. Those familiar with our posts and the “conflict cloud” from the Theory of Constraints will know that legitimate needs are never in conflict. However, the assumptions we make around them (mental models) lead us to adopt positions that are in conflict. We have to be able to face our assumptions, see how real they are and if they can be overcome so we can work towards a win-win solution for all those involved.
Finding the solution
As Jo Cox put it before her untimely death, referring to her experience of talking to her constituents, “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”
It is simply mistaken to think that by being part of a union with others we lose our own identity. Union does not mean that we disappear. What we have to work towards is not independence as opposed to dependence, but the right kind of interdependence. The UK needs to work at bonding together within the EU while being distinctly who they are. It is about satisfying the need for community as well as the need to be individual and unique. The EU is not perfect, nor will it ever be, but separation for the UK is not the answer. As one Nobel Prize writer put it: “Fail again. Fail better.”
(And by the way, the case for independence for Scotland is a very different issue as we discuss in our blog post The Scottish Independence Vote – A Dilemma for Brave Hearts https://www.intelligentmanagement.ws/scottish-independence-vote-decision/)
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About the Author
Angela Montgomery Ph.D. is Partner and Co-founder of Intelligent Management, founded by Dr. Domenico Lepore. She is co-author with Dr. Domenico Lepore and Dr. Giovanni Siepe of the forthcoming ‘Quality, Involvement, Flow: The Systemic Organization’ from CRC Press, New York. Angela’s new business novel+ website The Human Constraint looks at how Deming and the Theory of Constraints can create the organization of the future, based on collaboration, network and social innovation.